North Korea Dashes Hopes of Japanese Parents Over Abductees Fate

Three times a day, 88-year-old
Kayoko Arimoto makes a ritual offering of food to the daughter
she hasn’t seen for 31 years. On her birthday, it’s rice with
red beans followed by cake.

Keiko hasn’t taken her place at the family table since
being lured to North Korea in 1983 while studying English in
London, becoming one of an uncertain number of victims of a
North Korean kidnapping program. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s
drive to bring home the remaining abductees stalled last week
when North Korea said an initial report expected this month
wouldn’t be released and final findings may take a year.

“I can’t believe it’s going to take them a year to provide
evidence,” Keiko’s father Akihiro, 86, said in a phone
interview on Sept. 20 after abductee minister Eriko Yamatani met
with the families to tell them of the delay the previous day in
Tokyo.

More than a decade after Abe accompanied then-premier
Junichiro Koizumi on a trip to Pyongyang that achieved the
return of some of the victims and their families, the prime
minister remains convinced that there are abductees still alive
and says he is committed to bringing them home. In a country
where some of the victims remain household names three decades
after their disappearances, a collapse in the talks could
potentially hurt support for Abe’s government.

Training Spies

Keiko was just one of what may be dozens or hundreds of
young Japanese taken by North Korea to help train their spies in
Japanese language and customs. In 2002, almost two decades after
Keiko’s disappearance, then-leader Kim Jong Il admitted the
abduction of 13 Japanese citizens and allowed five of them to
return, saying the others, including Keiko, were dead.

Abe, 60, and other Japanese leaders never accepted the
claim and have continued to push for a full accounting. Earlier
this year, North Korea acquiesced, and in return, Japan agreed
in July to lift some of its sanctions against the regime of Kim Jong Un.

“The abduction problem was the first issue he took up as a
politician and it’s what made his name in national politics,”
said Yoshiyuki Inoue, an upper house lawmaker for Your Party who
served as secretary to Abe before and during his 2006-2007
administration

At his first major overseas foreign policy speech in
Washington in February 2013, Abe underscored the importance of a
full resolution of the issue.

Blue Ribbon

“I am wearing a blue-ribbon pin,” Abe told an audience at
the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It is to
remind myself, each and every day, that I must bring back the
Japanese people who were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s
and 80s.”

At the home of Keiko’s parents in Kobe, western Japan,
thousands of origami cranes sent as good luck charms by
supporters decorate the walls. Keiko’s parents said in an
interview last month that they are convinced their daughter is
still alive and said they keep up their symbolic efforts to keep
Keiko well nourished after hearing of food shortages in the
isolated nation.

They describe Keiko, the third of their six children, as a
quiet child who was interested from an early age in going
abroad.

“She was an obedient child who listened to her parents,
but she wouldn’t give an inch on this,” 88-year-old Kayoko said
in the interview last month. “She was in tears when she begged
us to let her go.”

London Studies

Keiko seemed to blossom when she went to London to study
English after graduating from university, they said, writing
home twice a month about the fun she was having and her life as
an au pair. After six months, when they were expecting her home,
the letters stopped.

It later turned out the young student was befriended and
tricked into traveling to North Korea by a Japanese woman who
belonged to the communist Red Army, Kayoko said in a 2004 book,
“Keiko is Surely Alive.”

Abe first heard about the abductions in 1988, when Keiko’s
parents visited the office of his politician father, Shintaro Abe, he says in his 2006 book “Toward a Beautiful Country.”
That year, the Arimoto family heard via a smuggled letter that
she was living with other Japanese abductees in Pyongyang.

When Abe was elected to parliament in 1993, he resolved to
do all he could to bring her and other victims home, he said in
his book. At the time, it was far from a popular cause, even
among members of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe Jeered

“Prime Minister Abe told me that when he raised the issue,
even the LDP would jeer him,” Inoue said. “Some people even
called him strange.”

For Abe, securing the release of further victims would
likely pay political dividends. His support level was at 64
percent in a poll carried out by the Yomiuri newspaper Sept.
3-4, down from 74 percent in April last year. Koizumi’s backing
leaped by 21 percentage points to 67 percent in a Kyodo news
poll conducted the day after he met Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang in
September 2002.

While the Japanese government officially lists 17 people as
abduction victims, the National Police Agency has a list of 883
missing people
who may have been spirited away by North Korea.

“There is an extremely large number of victims, and they
won’t easily be able to return those who are working in
government intelligence,” said Kazuhiro Araki, a professor at
Takushoku University in Tokyo who heads a group that
investigates the kidnappings. “So not all of them will come
home. However, returning some of them would be progress.”

To contact the reporters on this story:
Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo at
ireynolds1@bloomberg.net;
Maiko Takahashi in Tokyo at
mtakahashi61@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Andy Sharp at
asharp5@bloomberg.net
Andrew Davis

Source Article from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-09-21/north-korea-dashes-hopes-of-japanese-parents-over-abductees-fate.html
North Korea Dashes Hopes of Japanese Parents Over Abductees Fate
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