Abe asks North Korea to return all Japanese abductees

TOKYO • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he had asked North Korea's ceremonial leader, Mr Kim Yong Nam, to return all Japanese nationals believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents, reported Japan's Kyodo news agency.

Mr Abe shook hands and spoke briefly with 90-year-old Mr Kim at a reception held last Friday before the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

"I strongly, directly, asked Mr Kim Yong Nam to resolve the abduction issue, including by returning all the abductees home," Mr Abe said at a House of Representatives committee meeting.

In talks with reporters at his hotel later, Mr Abe said: "I told (Mr Kim) about our thoughts and positions, although I can't elaborate."

The Japanese media reported that Mr Abe took up the abductee issue and raised the topic of North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes with Mr Kim at the reception.

Mr Kim, the president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, is leading North Korea's delegation to the Olympics.

The country's participation in the event has been viewed as a sign of easing ties between the two Koreas.

It was Mr Abe's first interaction with a senior official representing the current regime led by Mr Kim Jong Un, a grandson of founder Kim Il Sung.

Under the current administration, Mr Abe's adviser, Mr Isao Iijima, met Mr Kim Yong Nam in May 2013.

The last time a Japanese leader visited North Korea was in 2002: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met Mr Kim Jong Il, Mr Kim Jong Un's father.

Japan believes scores of its nationals were snatched away by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s to help the isolated regime train spies.

Japan officially lists 17 citizens as abduction victims and suspects North Korea's involvement in other disappearances in the 1970s and 1980s.

While five of the 17 were returned in 2002, Pyongyang maintains that eight have died and the remaining four never entered the country.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline 'Abe asks North Korea to return all Japanese abductees'. Print Edition | Subscribe