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Friday, March 13, 2009

Don't lose momentum, abductees' kin tell Tokyo


By MASAMI ITO and JUN HONGO
Staff writers

Following Wednesday's emotional meeting with former North Korean agent Kim Hyon Hui, relatives of abductee Yaeko Taguchi urged top government officials Thursday to build on the momentum and press to learn the fate of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang's agents in the 1970s and '80s.

Taguchi was taken in June 1978 at the age of 22.

In a meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura at the prime minister's office, Taguchi's brother, Shigeo Iizuka, and her son, Koichiro, who was adopted by Iizuka, expressed their gratitude to the Japanese and South Korean governments for arranging the face to face meeting with Kim, which they had been seeking for five years.

"It has been our cherished desire to hold this meeting (with Kim), and I am moved that we were finally able to make it come true thanks to the efforts" of the two governments, Iizuka said.

The son also urged the government to try and resolve the abductee issue as soon as possible. "We were finally able to shine a ray of hope and we must not let it go out," he said. "We hope that the government, together with us, will devote itself to settling this issue as soon as possible."

In response, Kawamura, who concurrently serves as the state minister in charge of the North Korean abduction issue, said the meeting with Kim was a step forward, and promised Tokyo and Seoul would strengthen cooperation on the abductee issue.

"I believe that the meeting holds a certain level of significance from the viewpoint of finding out the truth about the abductee issue and strengthening ties between Japan and South Korea to aim to resolve the issue," Kawamura said after meeting the Iizuka family.

North Korea has maintained that Taguchi died in a car accident in July 1986, but on Wednesday Kim told the two Iizukas that she thought Taguchi was still alive, reiterating what she had said earlier to the media. Earlier reports said Japan also believes Taguchi married a South Korean abductee sometime after 1986.

The government's top spokesman called Kim's remark Wednesday "an important piece of information" and said the government would try to confirm the facts.

"The government has believed throughout this time that all of the abductees who have yet to return are still alive," Kawamura said.

Kim's "piece of information is very important and we will make efforts to confirm the information with the cooperation between Japan and South Korea."

Later Thursday, the two Iizukas also met with Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone. Shigeo Iizuka asked Nakasone to gather intelligence from defectors from North Korea on Japanese held in the hermit state.

"There are many North Korean defectors in South Korea," Iizuka, who also heads the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, told reporters at the Foreign Ministry. "I asked the foreign minister to establish a procedure to gather information from such people on abducted Japanese nationals."

While the meeting between Iizuka and Kim produced no new clues into Taguchi's fate, Kim assured the family that she is still alive and urged them to keep their hopes up.



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