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Abductee's mom calls for Japan to act 20 years after Pyongyang summit

Sakie Yokota, whose daughter Megumi remains missing after her abduction by North Korean agents aged 13 in 1977, has expressed her frustration with the Japanese government 20 years after a historic bilateral summit that saw the return of other abductees.
Tokyo officially lists 17 Japanese nationals as having been abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Five of them were returned after then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met with North Korea's Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang on Sept. 17, 2002, the first-ever summit between the two countries in the absence of diplomatic ties.
The five returnees were Yasushi Chimura, his wife Fukie, Kaoru Hasuike, his wife Yukiko and Hitomi Soga. Of the remaining 12, North Korea claims eight have already died, including Megumi, and four never entered the country, a claim rejected by Japan.
"I am frustrated as the Japanese government is inactive and not trying to save them," said Yokota, 86, in a recent interview with Kyodo News and other news organizations.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has vowed to resolve the abduction issue and said he is willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions. There have been no signs of progress, with Pyongyang conducting a series of missile launches and reportedly preparing for another nuclear test.
With November marking 45 years since Megumi was abducted on her way home from school in Niigata on the Sea of Japan coast, Yokota said, "It is awful. To have to keep waiting is like living in hell, and it is agonizing."
After decades of efforts to bring her daughter back from the reclusive state, including speeches across Japan, Yokota's husband Shigeru, who had long led a group of abductees' families, died in 2020 aged 87.
"He devoted everything to Megumi. I have been praying, saying I will work hard too," she said.
The couple met with Kim Eun Gyong, who was born to Megumi and Kim Young Nam, a South Korean abducted by North Korea, as well as Kim Eun Gyong's daughter in Mongolia in March 2014.
"My great-grandchild looked very much like Megumi when she was little and I could not put my feelings into words. The meeting was a joy to my husband, and I am grateful it was held," she said.
The following July, Pyongyang set up a panel to reopen an investigation into the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents, in exchange for Japan easing sanctions on the country.
But Japan reimposed the sanctions after a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests by North Korea, which resulted in Pyongyang disbanding the investigation panel in February 2016.
North Korea has since asserted that the abduction issue has been resolved.
Seeking help to resolve the abduction issue, Yokota has met with four U.S. presidents including incumbent Joe Biden, but she said in the end it is up to Japan to bring about a change in the situation.
"Even when the presidents vow help, nothing will move forward unless the Japanese government acts," Yokota said.
In addition to arranging a summit, Yokota called on the Japanese government to select a team for negotiations with North Korea.
"Unless we act, we won't hear anything" regarding how Kim Jong Un views the abduction and other issues related to Japan, she added.
As years have passed without a breakthrough, many of the abductees' relatives are now elderly, raising concern that little time is left for them to be reunited with their loved ones.
Yokota said she has been walking more slowly since suffering a fall.
"I have to be in good health or else I won't be able to welcome (Megumi) back," she said.
Asked by a reporter if she had any words for her daughter, Yokota said, "God is looking at us, and he shall give us that chance."


© KYODO
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