WASHINGTON – After pleading with U.S. lawmakers that time is running out to save her daughter, the mother of a Japanese girl kidnapped nearly 30 years ago by North Korean agents planned to share her story Friday with President George W. Bush in a White House meeting.
Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was 13 when she was kidnapped on her way home from school in 1977, spoke before two House of Representatives subcommittees Thursday about the profound pain, fatigue and helplessness she has experienced as she has worked to find her daughter. Yokota urged the world to impose sanctions on the North if the victims are not returned immediately.
"My daughter Megumi and other abductees must be alive somewhere in North Korea," Yokota said through a translator. "They are waiting for our help, even now."
Also Friday, a North Korean human rights rally featuring John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was planned in front of the U.S. Capitol. The congressional hearing and rally are part of a weeklong Washington focus on human rights abuses in the isolated, communist-led country. "North Korean Freedom Week" comes amid stalled efforts by the United States and four other nations to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
At Thursday's hearing, Yokota's voice faltered as she described learning from a North Korean agent that Megumi's kidnappers had kept her in a small, dark chamber in the bottom of an intelligence ship. Megumi was said to have scraped the walls with her fingers while crying, "Mother, help me."
At one point, Yokota showed lawmakers a picture of her daughter taken in North Korea after the kidnapping, pointing out how lonesome Megumi looks: "When I saw it, I couldn't resist caressing her picture and saying, `Oh, Megumi, you were here, in this kind of place; how frightened you must have been. Please forgive me for not rescuing you yet."'
In 2002, the North said it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. Kim Jong Il's government allowed five of them to return home but said the other eight — including Megumi Yokota — were dead. Many in Japan suspect the others are alive.
Lawmakers Thursday expressed their outrage at the plight of those kidnapped. Republican Rep. Chris Smith said the North uses abductees to work as spies and to train North Korean agents in language and culture.
"Thousands of South Koreans and hundreds of Japanese have suffered and died as pawns of this twisted regime," Smith said.
Jay Lefkowitz, the U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights, testified that Bush cares deeply about the issue. Lefkowitz said that until the North is "accountable, honestly, for the whereabouts of every one of the abductees, not only in Japan but in several other countries as well, it will not have any international legitimacy."
Koh Myung Sup, a South Korean fisherman abducted to North Korea in 1975 and returned last year, described for lawmakers his "lost 30 years."
"How I wish I can erase all my past pains and memories," he said. "I lived a life worse than death."
South Korea estimates the North is holding 486 South Korean civilians. Most are fishermen whose boats were seized since the end of 1950-53 Korean War.