Kin of Japanese abducted by North Korea urges Kishida to resolve issue

The mother of Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped at age 13 and has come to symbolize the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, has urged Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to take swift action to resolve the long-standing matter, as Monday marked 44 years since her daughter went missing.

Sakie Yokota, the 85-year-old mother of Megumi, called on Kishida to hold dialogue with Pyongyang, as she considers the new Japanese leader to be her last hope of making progress on the issue, which has become more urgent as relatives of those abducted in the 1970s and 1980s are aging.

“I want to work hard by using whatever strength that is left,” she said in a video message for a meeting Sunday in the city of Niigata before the anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance.

North Korean agents forcibly took Megumi on Nov. 15, 1977, when she was on her way home from school in Niigata.

“I want (Kishida) to hold conversations with North Korea and realize the return of Japanese people left behind by all means,” the mother said.

Talking to reporters last week at her home in Kawasaki, Sakie said, “I don’t know anything about (my daughter) since she was taken. The frustration I feel is beyond words.”

“Our family loves Megumi. I want her to wait with hope without falling ill,” she said. Megumi has twin brothers.

Last year, Megumi’s father, Shigeru, who worked with other relatives of abducted nationals in pressing the government to rescue their children and siblings, died at age 87 without ever seeing his daughter again.

The Japanese government has prioritized the return of the abduction victims. However, the abductees’ families have said little progress has been made despite their numerous requests to previous prime ministers to resolve the issue.

At a Tokyo gathering held Saturday demanding the return of the abductees, Kishida said he sees the issue as his administration’s “top priority” and pledged that he will bring it up during his upcoming meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

The premier is seeking to visit the United States for a summit with Biden by the end of the year.

“As abduction victims’ family members age, we do not have much time left to solve the issue. I strongly believe that I must solve it,” said Kishida, who became prime minister in October.

He also reiterated that he is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “without preconditions.” Pyongyang maintains that the issue is “already resolved.”

On Sunday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who doubles as minister in charge of the abduction issue, visited the site where Megumi is believed to have been kidnapped.

The Japanese government officially lists 17 citizens abducted by North Korean agents and suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances of Japanese nationals.

Of the 17, five were repatriated in 2002 following then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to North Korea. Pyongyang maintains that eight, including Megumi, have died, and the other four never entered the country.

The North initially said Megumi killed herself while being treated for depression in 1993 but later changed the year of her death to 1994.

Japan rejects the claim that she has died, partly because Pyongyang repatriated remains that it claimed were hers, but DNA testing conducted in Japan concluded they were not a match for Megumi.

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