Japan hopes spy sheds light on N Korea abductions

Tokyo claims 17 Japanese citizens were kidnapped by N Korea in 1970s and 80s.

Tokyo: Hoping to unravel a mystery that has haunted them for decades, the families of two Japanese abducted by North Korea met with a former spy who claims she knew the captives before she committed one of North Korea`s most notorious acts of terrorism -- the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987.

The carefully orchestrated visit this week by former North Korean agent Kim Hyon-hui, who was sentenced to death but later pardoned for the bombing, has been hailed as a rare chance to re-examine one of the coldest of cold cases, the disappearance of 17 Japanese citizens Tokyo says were kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and `80s.

But experts noted Kim has not lived in North Korea since her arrest after the bombing that killed 115 and was not likely have any fresh information.

The abductee issue has captivated attention here since Pyongyang acknowledged in 2002 -- after years of denial – it had kidnapped 13 Japanese to train its spies. It returned five abductees but claimed the rest had died.

Japan disputes that and says as many as 12 Japanese may still be captive in the North. The two countries have been at loggerheads over the issue since the North`s admission, with virtually no progress made on the investigation.

Kim, who now lives in South Korea, says she knew two women who were abductees and has suggested they might be alive.

Soon after her arrival on a chartered jet under heavy security, Kim met on Tuesday with relatives of Yaeko Taguchi, who was kidnapped from Tokyo in 1978 when she was 22.

Kim claims Taguchi helped her prepare for the airliner bombing by teaching her Japanese language and customs so she could pose as a Japanese tourist.

"Kim is an important living witness," Taguchi`s brother, Shigeo Iizuka, said after their meeting.

Kim also claims she knew Megumi Yokota, who was taken in 1977 at the age of 13 on her way home from school. She met with Yokota`s parents yesterday, but details of the meeting were not released to the public.

"I just hope that this may in some way contribute to a resolution of the abductions issue," Megumi`s father, Shigeru, said before sitting down with Kim at the summer home of former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, where Kim is staying.

Yokota`s case has become an international cause celebre.


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