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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012

Kim's sushi chef hopes to bring Yokota back

Kyodo

The sushi chef who served the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said he hopes to bring Megumi Yokota, one of the Japanese abducted to North Korea, back to Japan.

"It is my dream to bring (her) back, as a bridge between Japan and North Korea," said the 65-year-old chef who is known by the alias Kenji Fujimoto.

He visited North Korea from late July to early August and met with the current North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, a son of Kim Jong Il.

Fujimoto said Monday he will send his newly released book, consisting of detailed notes on developments around the time of his visit to the country, together with a message to Kim Jong Un.

According to Fujimoto, he attended a reception in Pyongyang in July at the invitation of Kim and had a letter he wrote read out by an interpreter. In it, he called for the return of abductees such as Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents from the city of Niigata when she was 13. He said Kim listened without saying anything.

Fujimoto returned to Japan with a promise to revisit North Korea on Sept. 1 but was asked by Jin Matsubara, then the state minister in charge of the abduction issue, on Aug. 28 to wait a week before his next visit, he said.

Assuming that he would be given a letter from Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to be handed to Kim, Fujimoto accepted the request and told the North about the postponement. But on Sept. 5, Matsubara told him that Noda had declined to write a letter as talks between the Japanese and North Korean governments resumed in late August for the first time in four years.

When Fujimoto visited Beijing on Sept. 7 on his way to North Korea without a letter from the prime minister, he was unable to obtain a visa from the North, and had no choice but to abandon the visit, he said.

On the meeting between senior Japanese and North Korean officials earlier this month, Fujimoto said the abduction issue is not something that can be solved at that level, adding that "no progress will be made unless the top leaders talk with each other."

Fujimoto, who served as a sushi chef to Kim Jong Il between 1989 and 2001, offered to help resolve the abduction issue, including meeting with Yokota's parents if requested.

Meanwhile, Matsubara wrote on his website that he did meet secretly with Fujimoto but denied having made such a request, noting "there is no fact that I asked him to postpone his revisit to North Korea, and there was no option under any circumstances whatsoever of entrusting a public document to him."

Fujimoto is believed to be the first Japanese national to have met with Kim Jong Un since he assumed power after his father's death last December.

In 2002, Kim Jong Il admitted North Korean agents abducted or lured 13 Japanese nationals and said eight of them, including Yokota, have died. The five others returned to Japan later that year.

The Japanese government recognizes 17 nationals, including the 13 admitted by the North, as having been abducted by North Korea and is demanding that Pyongyang conduct a reinvestigation into the fate of those still unaccounted for, including those who are said to have died.

At the senior-level talks held in Ulan Bator in mid-November, Japan and North Korea discussed the abduction issue and agreed to continue consultations.



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