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抄訳付きの社説はThe Japan Times Weeklyからの転載です。Weekly Onlineはこちら

Unconditionally settle abduction issue



Japan and North Korea are expected to discuss the abduction issue on a bilateral basis during the six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis to be held later this month in Beijing. Japanese negotiators should demand that Pyongyang address this issue in good faith and allow abductees' relatives who remain in the North to leave for Japan as soon as possible.

China, the host nation and a longtime friend of North Korea, can play a useful role in resolving this humanitarian problem, which involves more than a dozen Japanese nationals who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, in a meeting Aug. 11 with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, expressed sympathy: "I understand this is a very important issue for the Japanese people."

The kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Korea constitutes not only a serious violation of Japanese sovereignty but a heinous state crime. North Korea should let the abductees' relatives come to Japan immediately and unconditionally.

It has been almost a year since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a surprise visit to Pyongyang and heard North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admit to the abductions. In October, the following month, five abductees returned to Japan, leaving behind their children.

Pyongyang's willingness to discuss the abduction issue — a major obstacle to Japan-North Korea talks on normalizing relations — suggests that the North may be inclined to restart the long-stalled negotiations. Its agreement to the six-party format — which represents a de facto reversal of its demand for direct dialogue with Washington — indicates a desire to end the nuclear standoff on a multilateral basis. Progress on the nuclear issue will likely facilitate normalization talks.

At this stage, however, it is unclear exactly how the North Koreans view the abduction issue. Pyongyang recently tried to reach the returnees in Japan in a backhanded way by asking a Japanese non-governmental organization to hand them letters and photos from their children. Understandably the parents refused to take those letters and photos directly from the NGO; they accepted the mail through government officials.

Of the letters, one couple said their children "want us to return to North Korea. It looks like they were forced to write those letters." According to another couple, the mail from their children included the message "We are told that our parents have been detained in Japan."

One wonders whether Pyongyang was trying to influence the Japanese government or divide the parents by taking advantage of the natural bonds between parents and children.

The abduction issue does not involve only the five returnees and their relatives in North Korea. At least eight other Japanese, including Ms. Megumi Yokota, are believed to have been abducted, but the North says they are dead. The Japanese government has requested that Pyongyang supply further information about them — but to no avail. The government has identified 15 people as abductees. There are other suspected cases of abduction as well. Normalization will be impossible unless this problem is resolved in its entirety.

North Korea's official news agency has criticized Japan for trying to create an "artificial obstacle" in the six-nation talks "by bringing up an issue that has been resolved." Pyongyang should be aware that the abductions have been roundly condemned by the international community, including the U.N. Human Rights Commission and the Group of Eight summit.

Therefore, reason, if not politics, dictates that the abductions be discussed at the six-nation talks. The United States is reportedly in favor of this approach. China, however, is wary of getting involved with the issue. Trying to mediate between Japan and North Korea, Beijing favors separate talks on this subject, which is what Pyongyang desires.

Japan should be prepared to resolve the abduction problem either bilaterally or multilaterally. The important thing is that Japan should maintain a resolute stand on this issue. Pyongyang may try to strike a deal in exchange for economic aid. That kind of give-and-take must be rejected. In this regard, close coordination among Japan, South Korea and the United States is important. The policy of "dialogue and pressure" needs to be strengthened through multilateral cooperation.

The Japan Times Weekly
Aug. 23, 2003
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