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Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Diet group takes aim at Pyongyang

Staff writer

KOBE -- The formation late last week of a Diet group seeking to help families of Japanese nationals thought to have been kidnapped by North Korean agents signifies a welcome hardening in the attitude of some Diet members toward North Korea, according to the families in question and their supporters.

On Monday, relatives and supporters were preparing to formalize information exchanges with group members, with some saying that Diet deliberations on the issue may take place shortly.

The group comprises around a dozen lawmakers and is led by Katsuei Hirasawa, a House of Representatives lawmaker of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Shingo Nishimura, a Lower House member of the Liberal Party.

Its aim is to put diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang for the early release of at least 11 Japanese nationals whom Tokyo believes were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

"Our organization is very different from the other organization, the Japan-North parliamentary friendship league," Hirasawa said during a news conference in Tokyo. "We will demand that the government take certain action with regard to North Korea before agreeing to restore diplomatic ties."

Nishimura said that the group will seek the support from across the political spectrum -- with the exception of the Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party.

The group has four goals:

* To investigate the collapse of the Chogin credit unions, which are believed to have close ties with North Korea.

* To raise a mystery vessel that sank in the East China Sea during a December shootout with Japanese patrol ships.

* To stop all transfers of cash from Japan to North Korea by individuals and organizations.

* To prevent resident Koreans from returning to Japan after traveling to North Korea.

The cumulative purpose of these steps is to obtain diplomatic leverage over Pyongyang in terms of diplomatic normalization talks and to gain information on suspected abductees.

The formation of the alliance was welcomed by families and their supporters.

In Kobe, Akihiro and Kayoko Arimoto, whose daughter, Keiko, disappeared from Europe in 1983 and was reportedly taken to North Korea by the former wife of a Japanese leftist hijacker, said Monday that the new Diet group is far more supportive than the league.

"The (parliamentary friendship league) wanted to just say 'yes' to North Korea without giving anything in return," Akihiko Arimoto said.

According to Shigeo Masuki, an Osaka-based representative of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN), the new Diet group supports all of the major political goals of the association.

"The Japan-North Korea parliamentary friendship league consisted of nearly 170 Diet members from all political parties," Masuki said. "Many of them, such as Masaaki Nakayama, its former chairman and a Lower House LDP member from Osaka, are said to have close political connections with North Korean groups in Japan, especially in Osaka."

In mid-March, Nakayama called the Arimoto family in his capacity as chairman of the old group.

"He asked that we not trust the NARKN officials and said that its leadership was friendly toward the Chinese Communist Party," said Arimoto's mother.

On March 15, Nakayama told a gathering of the league that, as Keiko Arimoto had been taken to North Korea by a Japanese national, Pyongyang itself was not involved in the kidnapping. Nakayama later resigned as chairman.

"The politicians in the parliamentary league and the Foreign Ministry wanted to just give North Korea things like food aid without asking for information on those who were kidnapped," Masuki maintained. "But public pressure is growing, and the new alliance will be discussing many things in coming days, including raising the issue in the Diet."

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