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     Apr 28, 2009
Parental love versus Kim Jong-il
By Kosuke Takahashi

KAWASAKI, Japan - Until that fateful day, Shigeru and Sakie Yokota had enjoyed a happy family life, just like any other. Then, on the evening of November 15, 1977, their 13-year-old daughter Megumi disappeared on her way home from school in Niigata city, which is about 200 kilometers northwest of Tokyo.

Shigeru Yokota, Megumi's father and then a Bank of Japan official, had loved to take snapshots of Megumi to record her growth and use in prayers for her health. Sakie Yokota, Megumi's mother, had made her skirts and embroidered blouses from the  clothes Sakie wore when she was young.

Megumi was a cheerful, bright and active girl who liked music, books and paintings. She loved her twin younger brothers Takuya and Tetsuya, now 40. At 13, she gave her father a turtle-shell


comb on his 45th birthday, telling him to pay more attention to his looks. The next morning, she left for school and never returned.

So began the anguish of the Yokota family and their desperate efforts to search for their daughter - said to have been the largest in the history of the prefecture's police department.

On January 1997, 20 years later, they were shocked to learn that Megumi had been abducted by North Korean agents. The Yokotas have since become Japan's most famous crusaders for Japanese abduction victims. Megumi Yokota remains a tragic heroine for the Japanese abductees and for the whole nation.

The Japanese government has confirmed that North Korea kidnapped 17 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s; so far only five have returned and 12 are unaccounted for. In September 2002, when then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il admitted for the first time that North Korean agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals. Pyongyang has claimed that eight, including Megumi Yokota, are dead, and that the other four never entered the country.

North Korea has claimed Megumi committed suicide in March, 1994 and returned to Japan a set of remains. But Japan has said that a DNA test proved they could not have been her remains, and her family does not believe that she would have committed suicide. While in the North, Megumi reportedly married a South Korean national and had a daughter, Kim Hye-gyong, now 22.

The abducted Japanese nationals, including Megumi, are believed to have been forced to teach Japanese language and culture to North Korean intelligence agents for covert operations against South Korea. There is widespread belief that in October 2002, Kim Jong-il released the only five abductees who had not trained spies or taken part in terrorist operations against South Korea. As the rest did, the North has hesitated to provide any information on them or release them.

Kim Hyun-hee, one of two North Korean agents who bombed a Korean Air airliner in 1987, said at a press conference with relatives of Japanese abductee Yaeko Taguchi in March that she did not believe Megumi was dead. She said Megumi had been admitted to a hospital due to her mental state, but "was told that her condition was not severe".

In an interview from their home in Kawasaki city, adjoining Tokyo, the Yokotas told Asia Times Online that their rescue efforts would continue, despite their age: Shigeru Yokota is now 76 and Sakie Yokota is 73.

Asia Times Online: It has been 32 years since Megumi-san [san is a Japanese honorific] was kidnapped by North Korea. What would you like to say to her now?

Sakie: All I'd like to say to her is, "Please be alive. Please be well. Whatever circumstances you are in, believe that you will be able to return home in the future. We also believe." That is all I want to say to her.

ATol: North Korea launched a missile on April 5, causing a big fuss in the United Nations. Kim Jong-il has also appeared on television after a long absence. The six-party talks remain stalled, as do Japan-North Korea negotiations.

Shigeru: Yes. In August 2008, Japan and North Korea agreed to complete a re-investigation into the Japanese abductees in North Korea. But then prime minister Yasuo Fukuda's abruptly resigned. The North then stalled by saying they wanted to see the new [Taro] Aso administration's diplomatic stance. At the time, the Aso cabinet was thought to be planning to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election.

By around late October 2008, the North said it intended to cancel the negotiation process. Up to today, negotiations have stalled and no action has taken since.

ATol: Based on testimony by North Koreans involved in the abductions, such as the former spies Kim Hyun-hee and Shin Gwang-soo, we know that Kim Jong-il masterminded them. But Kim Jong-il told prime minister Junichiro Koizumi in September 2002 that the abductions were planned by some people in the North's intelligence who had "fallen into blindly motivated patriotism and heroism".

Sakie: That was a lie. Kim always says nothing but lies. But the truth will come out, perhaps after his death, and this will damage his reputation. I just wonder how much Kim's closest aides have been brainwashed by him and how much they harbor ill-feelings toward him. We don't know. That's sort of scary to me.

ATol: If Kim Jong-il gave Tokyo credible information on Megumi-san and other abduction victims, it would be like signing his own political death warrant. Do you think we will be forced to wait for his death for news or are there other ways to defuse the situation?
Shigeru: We do not think we can defuse the situation with our personal actions. Administrations such as Shinzo Abe's have tried using dialogue and pressure. This balance of talk and pressure is important.

But putting pressure on North Korea will not lead to the collapse of Kim Jong-il's regime any time soon. If the North was a normal nation, that could happen. But the regime's officials do not even care about the death and dying of their ordinary citizens. If they were to run even shorter of food, they would think of their own well-being first before their citizens.

Sakie: They only think about their own survival.

Shigeru: Japan's Foreign Ministry has often said, "We have thrown the ball in their court but the North never throws it back to us." But Japan needs to take more action, not just wait for their response.

Sakie: Aggressive and specific action is needed.

ATol: Japan always seems to lack intelligence. Most recently, without hard intelligence, Japan could not convince China and Russia that the North's recent rocket was actually a missile, not a satellite, in the UN. Japan needs to make more efforts to obtain intelligence.

Sakie: Yes, indeed.

ATol: Alongside possible financial sanctions by the UN, Japan could also begin unilateral financial sanctions against the North. It's widely believed that Kim Jong-il has private funds in Swiss bank accounts. The same Swiss banks do business in Tokyo.

Sakie: Japan's top government officials should take note of such things and move ahead as quickly as possible. I do not know why they are acting so slowly.

ATol: Judging from North Korea's recent activities, the nation still acts like it is at war. From their point of view, the line between the South and the North is just a ceasefire line, not a border. This means Japan may need to act stronger.

Sakie: That's why the South always feels threatened. Still, if we confront the North aggressively with strong determination, conflicts may develop, just like the US and the Iraq War. This will lead to yet another tragedy. This is why, I think, that former US president George W Bush reluctantly removed North Korea from the US's terrorism blacklist. But the North always breaks their promises. The world should realize the true nature of North Korea.
ATol: Kim Hyun-hee has said that if Tokyo could find ways to persuade North Korea without hurting its pride, then a miracle could happen. She also said in North Korea, people the government has said are dead are often alive. What do you think of her remarks?

Sakie: We do not know what she really meant by "pride".

ATol: Her remarks reminded me of US president Bill Clinton's approach to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Clinton tried to negotiate a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis during the waning days of his presidency by overlooking Arafat's past wrongdoing. Do you think the same kind of approach could be tried with Kim's past wrongdoing if it were to get Megumi-san and others back to Japan?

Shigeru: The problem is that there are nearly 500 missing persons, according to The Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Kidnapped to North Korea, a Japanese citizen group trying to establish links between missing Japanese and North Korea. So it's not clear how far we should go before normalizing ties with North Korea. There is no clear exit policy.

Sakie: Although Kim Jong-il promotes militarism to boost national prestige, he should have a human mind. To win the trust of the world community and to hold his head up high in international society, he needs to first come clean about the abductions. We secretly think that if he returns the abductees to Japan, we can be ready to overlook his past wrongdoing.

ATol: Sakie-san, Megumi-san's daughter Kim Hye-gyong looks just look like you!

Sakie: Yes, she looks like me when I was young. Everybody has said that. I feel like meeting her [in North Korea], but cannot meet her now. The abduction issue must be solved first. And before I visit, the world needs to be at peace and the North have no nuclear weapons.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also writes for Jane's Defense Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. He can be contacted at letters@kosuke.net.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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