SEOUL, South Korea – A South Korean man allegedly abducted by the North met his mother for the first time in 28 years Wednesday amid concern the communist state is trying to use him as a tool to silence Japanese claims that his former Japanese wife is alive.
Kim Young-nam and his 78-year-old mother cried and hugged each other at the North's Diamond Mountain resort, amid other reunions of Koreans divided by the world most heavily fortified border.
"I am very happy to see you are so healthy," Kim told his heavily wrinkled mother, Choi Gye-wol, who sat in a wheelchair, according to television footage. "Stop crying, why do you cry on such a happy day?"
She responded, saying "Now, I don't have any regret even if I die."
Kim was just 16 when he disappeared from a beach on South Korea's southwest coast in 1978. His family thought he had drowned but learned later from the South Korean government that he was believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents and forced to live there.
Now 45, Kim is among nearly 500 South Korean civilians believed to have been kidnapped by the communist state and still held there. North Korea claims they voluntarily defected.
Besides the civilian abductees, South Korea also estimates 542 soldiers from the 1950-53 Korean War are still alive in North Korea. The North denies holding any POWs.
Kim's case has drawn wide media attention because he was found to have married a Japanese abductee, Megumi Yokota, whose fate has become a key sticking point in relations between Pyongyang and Tokyo.
North Korea claims Yokota is dead, but many Japanese believe she is still alive.
Yokota was among 13 Japanese citizens that the North admitted in 2002 to kidnapping in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies in Japanese language and culture. Pyongyang returned only five of them, saying the other eight, including Yokota, were dead.
In Tokyo, Yokota's mother welcomed Kim's reunion with his family, but said her feelings were complicated by the fact she still wasn't sure what happened to her daughter.
"I don't know what to say," Sakie Yokota said after viewing images of the meeting on TV. "My feelings are truly complex. But I think it's wonderful they were reunited."
Early this month, the North unexpectedly announced that it had found Kim and would allow him to meet South Korean relatives, drawing suspicions that Pyongyang is trying to use Kim to quash Japanese claims that Yokota is alive in the North.
During the reunion with his mother, Kim didn't say anything about his ex-wife or how he ended up in North Korea. He was scheduled to hold a press conference Thursday, but widespread views were that he is expected to repeat what the communist regime has said.
Yokota's father, Shigeru, expressed such concern earlier this month, saying he was wary of any reunions taking place under the eyes of North Korean authorities.
"We are fully aware that, whatever statement the victims or families make, it will not be one that can be said to reflect the truth," said a statement issued by Shigeru Yokota and civic group for kidnap victims and their families.
Accompanying Kim at Wednesday's reunion was his daughter, Kim Hae Kyong, 18, whom he is believed to have fathered with Yokota. Also present were Kim's new wife and their 7-year-old son.
North Korea has claimed that Yokota's husband was a North Korean man, named Kim Chol Jun. But that claim was discredited when South Korean and Japanese DNA tests showed there was a high possibility that Yokota's daughter was related to Kim's mother.
Japanese officials took the samples from the daughter during a visit to North Korea in 2002 and later gave them to the South.
North Korea's abductions drew U.S. attention with the case of Charles Jenkins, a U.S. soldier who deserted his Army unit in 1965 and fled to the North.
The communist regime kept him for 39 years, and Jenkins said he was used him as a propaganda tool and was forced to teach English to North Korean military officer cadets.
Jenkins married Hitomi Soga, a Japanese woman kidnapped by the North Koreans when she was only 19. After diplomatic negotiations, the North allowed Soga and four other abductees to return to Japan in 2002. But it took another two years for Jenkins and the couple's two daughters to get to Japan, where he surrendered to U.S. military authorities and spent 30 days in a military jail for desertion and aiding the enemy.