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Japan set to ask North Korea to extend abductee visit
Japan said on Thursday that five Japanese abducted to North Korea a quarter of a century ago would extend a home visit and that it would press DPRK to allow their children to join them.
The five have returned home for the first time since being abducted by North Korean agents in 1978 and, as the October 28 date tentatively set for their departure approached, their families had pleaded for them to be allowed to stay longer.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Japan would tell North Korea to allow the seven children involved to visit Japan as soon as possible to join their parents.
"We believe the return of the entire families is essential," Fukuda told reporters.
The government, which flew the abductees home, has said that it would respect their wishes, and those of their families, as to whether they would live in Japan permanently.
Japanese media have quoted a North Korean official as saying Pyongyang would allow the permanent return of the five, and the families they left in North Korea would be allowed to join them.
Some in Japan view the children as "hostages", whose presence in North Korea will ensure the return of the abductees. Many of the children, in their teens or early twenties, are said to be unaware of their heritage.
Japanese officials said DNA tests had confirmed that a 15-year-old girl living in Pyongyang under the name Kim Hye-gyong was the daughter of Megumi Yokota. North Korea has said Megumi, abducted in 1977 at the age of 13, committed suicide in 1998.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tokyo would try to arrange a visit to Japan by Kim Hye-gyong so her grandparents could meet her.
"She is cute, isn't she? I hope she will be able to meet her grandparents soon," Koizumi told reporters.
North Korea had long denied the abductions, but in a stunning about-face the country's leader, Kim Jong-il, confirmed them and apologised during a summit with Koizumi in September.
PERMISSION TO LEAVE
North Korean Foreign Ministry official Pak Ryong-yon, in an interview with Japan's Asahi newspaper, said the abductees would be allowed to leave the nation for good if they wished.
"We are ready to guarantee (their repatriation)," Pak was quoted by the Asahi as saying. "If their children do not go with them, the families will be broken up."
He did not say when repatriation might take place, noting only that since a number of procedures would be required, "it might take some time".
The five have been noncommittal about a permanent return with one, Hitomi Soga, saying she wanted to return to North Korea to discuss the matter with her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, a former U.S. soldier who defected to North Korea in 1965.
Soga, who married to Jenkins in 1980, has two daughters, aged 17 and 19.
"The husband of Mrs. Hitomi Soga is American, therefore we have been coordinating with the United States," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.
Japanese media said Tokyo was trying to smooth the path to a permanent homecoming for Soga by asking Washington to grant amnesty to her husband who was said to fear arrest by U.S. authorities should he come to Japan.
Family members of the abductees, who have pleaded with the Japanese government not to let them leave Japan, expressed doubts about Pak's statement.
"This was a conversation with the media, we do not accept it as the view of the North Korean government," said Toru Hasuike, elder brother of abductee Kaoru.
Pak said the issue would be taken up at talks between Japan and North Korea aimed at normalising diplomatic ties and set for October 29 and 30 in Malaysia.
Pak said he understood Tokyo's concerns but criticised Japan by saying it had not reflected enough on its own misdeeds during its brutal 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula.
"The abductions do not compare with the cruelty of Japan's actions (during the colonial period) in either their scale or their brutality," he said. "Japan has not reflected on what it has done, not to mention the question of compensation."
Pyongyang's demands for an apology and compensation for Japan's colonial rule had long stymied normalisation talks, with Japan saying the two had not been in a state of war and refusing to consider reparations.
Koizumi apologised for Japan's actions at the September summit and Kim is expected to accept economic aid instead of direct compensation.
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