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Friday, Feb. 10, 2006

North's abduction charge irks NGOs

Staff writer

Members of nongovernmental organizations trying to help North Koreans who have fled their impoverished country find safe haven lashed out Thursday over Pyongyang's claim this week that they were kidnapping its people.

During bilateral talks in Beijing that ended Wednesday, North Korea demanded that Japan hand over seven NGO members it reckoned were "abducting" its escapees.

Those sought include Lee Young Hwa, leader of Rescue the North Korean People! Urgent Action Network (RENK), and Hiroshi Kato, a senior member of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees.

It was the first time the North has made such a demand at bilateral talks.

"What we are doing is far from abducting," Kato told The Japan Times on Thursday. "I am displeased to be referred to as a perpetrator of such an act."

Kato stressed that his group helps North Koreans who flee to China to escape starvation in the reclusive state.

The group provides food and shelter to the refugees, cares for the children they bring with them and even provides food to North Korea, he said.

"North Koreans flee their country because the North Korean government cannot feed them enough food," Kato said. "The North Korean side is just trying (to use the NGO issue) to get the upper hand in negotiations with Japan."

The two countries remain deadlocked over North Korea's abductions of Japanese during the 1970s and '80s, ending the latest round of talks with no progress.

Lee, who was also branded by the North Korean negotiators as a "criminal" along with Kato, said Pyongyang's raising of the issue means it wants Tokyo to drop its demand that the North hand over agent Sin Guang Su, who was believed involved in the kidnapping of several Japanese, including repatriated abductee Hitomi Soga.

"They may have feared that if they did not say anything new (during the bilateral talks), the negotiations would break down," said Lee, who is also a professor at Kansai University.

He argued that North Korea is the one causing the escapee outflow.

Lee added that he hopes Tokyo enacts a law to assist North Korean asylum-seekers and fund support groups.

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The Japan Times

Article 6 of 14 in National news

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