Hard return from Korea for Japanese abductees

Officials announced Thursday night returning kidnap victims must remain in Japan – even against their will.

When Toru Hasuike first heard that his brother would be coming home to Japan 24 years after his abduction by North Korean agents, he was excited about what he hoped would be the start of a new life for his sibling in the land of his birth.

But little more than a week into their visit, his delight turned to alarm, as his brother Kaoru continued to express loyalty to the land of his kidnappers, and hesitation about staying permanently in Japan.

On Wednesday, Mr. Toru said he was preparing for a bitter feud if his 45-year-old younger brother were to insist on returning to North Korea next week.

"If necessary I will fight my brother. I will tie him up and lock him in so that he does not go back," Toru said. "He has been brainwashed so what he says he wants is irrelevant. What is important is that he was kidnapped and must be returned."

Now, Toru may not need to tie anybody up – though the Japanese government seems to agree with his methods. At a news conference Thursday night, officials announced the latest twist in the outlandish tale of the abduction of his brother and four other Japanese citizens who were gagged, stuffed into bags, and whisked off to Pyongyang in 1978. The five will now remain in Japan indefinitely, regardless of their wishes.

"The five abductees will stay in Japan," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda announced Thursday. "We will strongly urge North Korea to ensure the safety of families remaining in North Korea and their early return."

It is "indispensable and urgent," he added, that the abductees' relatives be returned to Japan.

The announcement came after abductees' families petitioned the Japanese government Wednesday, demanding that they be held in Japan until their children are allowed to join them. "North Korea has broken all sorts of promises in the past," the letter said. "If it turns out they cannot come back to Japan after going to North Korea it will be too late to do anything."

Until last month, North Korea angrily denied allegations that it had abducted Japanese nationals during the 1970s and 80s. Then, in a stunning about-face, the country's leader, Kim Jong Il, admitted that special forces had seized 13 people, eight of whom have reportedly died.

The five survivors arrived in Japan on October 15 for a two-week visit. But despite a lavish homecoming, all have said they are of two minds about staying, when they have children and jobs in the land of their kidnappers. "I had a family and a convenient life [in North Korea]," said Yasushi Chimura during a visit to Obama, where he and his girlfriend were seized while stargazing one summer evening in 1978. "I was happy, so I didn't really feel I wanted to go home."

The visiting Kaoru told his brother he feels a responsibility to make amends for Japan's colonial rule. "Japan is partly responsible for the breakup of Korea," he said, according to Toru. "I thought I should cooperate to bring about reunification."

Adjusting to life in Japan could be hard for the abductees' children – in their late teens or early 20s – who have grown up speaking only Korean, and have been kept in the dark about their parents' pasts.

"My three kids were educated in a socialist system. I have never told them that their mother and I are Japanese," Mr. Chimura said before Thursday's announcement. "Before I consider whether I want to bring them here, I must carefully consider what psychological damage they might suffer."

Japanese relatives say such statements cannot be trusted because the five have been brainwashed, and North Korea has effectively kept their children as hostages to ensure their return. "We will not let them go until everything is restored and the children left behind are returned," says Yuko Hamamoto, whose sister Fukie was kidnapped in 1978 on a date with Chimura, whom she later married.

North Korea had said the children could not visit Japan this time because of school, but the Japanese Foreign Ministry says a subsequent agreement would have allowed them to join a second visit, possibly in mid-November.

Japan is due to restart talks in Kuala Lumpur next week on normalizing diplomatic relations with North Korea, but North Korea's admission last week that it is pursuing a nuclear weapons program in contravention of international treaties, and the extension of the abductees' visit, could make progress difficult.

The Japanese prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, told the Japanese parliament Thursday that his priority was the early return of the victims and their families from North Korea.

• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.