Kim Jong Nam murder rekindles interest in suspected abduction off Singapore nearly 40 years ago

Datuk Michael Chong and James Hue displaying the pictures of four Malaysian women who were abducted in 1978, reportedly by North Korea agents, in 2005.
Datuk Michael Chong and James Hue displaying the pictures of four Malaysian women who were abducted in 1978, reportedly by North Korea agents, in 2005.PHOTO: THE STAR

BANGKOK (Bernama) – The murder of Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia at the hands of suspected North Korean agents has rekindled interest in the mysterious disappearance of five women, including a Singaporean, almost four decades ago.  

On Aug 20, 1978, four young Malaysians and a Singaporean woman disappeared without a trace after they were asked by a "Japanese" man to join a party on a boat off the republic's coast.  

The four Malaysian women are Yeng Yoke Fun, 22, Yap Me Leng, 22, Seetoh Tai Thim, 19, Margaret Ong Guat Choo, 19.

The Singaporean is Diana Ng Kum Yim, 24.  

Although the women's disappearance and Kim's murder occurred nearly four decades apart, they shared one uncanny similarity: that of deep suspicion that North Korean agents were behind the crime, allegedly on orders from their supreme leader.

"We should investigate the case again (the 1978 dissapearance incident), we are willing to assist relatives of the four Malaysian women in finding more information," Tomoharu Ebihara, director of the Association for the Rescue of North Korea Abductees (ARNKA), told Bernama.

According to Ebihara, information on the possible existence of Malaysian abductees in North Korea was derived from testimonies of South Korean actress Choi Eun Hee and former United States' soldier Charles Robert Jenkins.  

Diana Ng Kum Yim was one of five women who disappeared on Aug 20, 1978. PHOTO: ST LIBRARY

Eun Hee was abducted in Hong Kong in 1978 while Jenkins deserted his unit and crossed into North Korea in 1965 and lived in the Communist country until his release with his family in 2004.  

"According to Jenkins, he saw a picture of Yoke Fun (one of the women who disappeared in Singapore) and remembers meeting a similar woman at an amusement park in Pyongyang between 1980 and 1981, "said Ebihara.  

Eun Hee, who had lived in Pyongyang until 1986, said she heard from a woman that a Malaysian couple lived in a separate residence in Pyongyang during her stay in North Korea's capital, said the activist.  

"That is the only information we have on the possible abductees from Malaysia," he said, adding that information provided by Eun Hee and Jenkins were credible.  

According to Ebihara, citizens from 12 countries, including Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Jordan, Lebanon, Romania and France, were alleged to have been kidnapped by North Korean agents.  

He said non-governmental organisations in Japan believed about 300 Japanese were abducted by North Korean agents.

Hundreds of South Koreans were also allegedly abducted by North Korean agents.  

The sole Thai abductee, Anocha Panjoy, was abducted in July 1978 while she was working in Macau, allegedly by the same "Japanese" man who was behind the kidnapping of the four Malaysian and a Singapore women, said Ebihara.

The "Japanese" man is believed a North Korean agent. It is believed that the abductees were used as a language or cultural teacher for future North Korean agents, among others.  

"They (women abductees) are also kidnapped to become wives of foreign abducted men," he said, citing Jenkins who was married to Japanese abductee Hitomi Soga.  

The Thai abductee Panjoy, said Ebihara, was also believed to be married to another foreign abductee, according to information provided by Jenkins.