06/12/2006, 00.00
NORTH KOREA - SOUTH KOREA - JAPAN

Pyongyang using an old mother to duck abduction accusations

Pino Cazzaniga
After almost 30 years North Korea "finds" a man who was abducted to train as a spy and allows him to meet his mother. During his captivity he married a Japanese woman, also abducted, that Kim Jong-il had first claimed was dead.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – On June 8 North Korea's Foreign Ministry informed the government of South Korea that it found Kim Young-nam, 44, a South Korean national, and that it was organising a meeting between him and his mother, 82-year-old Choi Gye-wol, on humanitarian grounds. The meeting should take place at a scheduled group family reunion in Mount Kumgang on June 20-22. The telegram, signed by North Korea's chief delegate to inter-Korean ministerial talks Kwon Ho-ung, ended saying: "We urge responsible measures from the (South Korean) government to prevent any occurrences that may create hurdles before the reunion between Kim Young-nam and his mother." However, what on the surface may appear as an act of generosity in line with the process of intra-Korean reconciliation is in reality a cynical ploy whose purpose is get Pyongyang out of an embarassing situation.

Kim Young-nam did not voluntarily emigrate to North Korea but is a victim of kidnapping. In the summer of 1978, when he was a 16-year-old student, he was on a visit to a small island in Cholla province where he was abducted by Kim Jong-il's secret agents to be trained as a spy instructor. Nothing was heard of him until Japanese intelligence, itself searching for its own citizens kidapped by the North Korean regime, found him.

In 1977 a 13-year-old student, Megumi Yokota, disappeared in Japan's Niigata Prefecture. In the following years, other Japanese nationals living near the Sea of Japan vanished as well. As time went by, suspicions fell on North Korea as the most likely culprit.

In 2002, when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang to break the ice with the closed Communist nation, dear leader 'Kim Jong-il' unexectedly acknowledged that his agents had abducted 13 Japanese nationals. "The kidnappers carried out these deeds to gain merit, but they have already been punished,"he said, adding that five of the abductees had alread died, including Megumi, who was said to have committed suicide as a result of a nervous breakdown. The woman's parents refused however to accept that she was dead and demanded evidence. The authorities in Pyongyang eventually returned human ashes, but DNA tests excluded they belonged to the abducted woman.

Japanese and South Korean intelligence did not give up. On April 26 the director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS), Kim Seoung-kyu, released information it had for about ten years, namely that Kim Young-nam and four other South Koreans kidnaped in 1977-78 were still alive in North Korea. Japan's authorities, after getting DNA samples from Kim Gye-gyang, Megumi's daughter and comparing it to that of relatives of the five South Korean abductees, concluded that Kim Young-nam was Megumi's husband.

Faced with the evidence, North Korea was quick to tell South Korea that Kim had been finally "found" and that granted permission to meet his mother. But, said an editorial in Japanese daily Asahi, this "proposed reunion between a South Korean woman and her abducted son in North Korea is part of Pyongyang's plot to camouflage its crimes and thwart cooperation over the abduction issue".

The case of Kim Young-nam and Megumi Yokota also exposed two different approaches to dealing with the Pyongyang regime, namely Seoul's silent diplomacy versus Tokyo's more decisive and calibrated actions.

For South Korean daily The Chosun Ilbo the recent revelation "is depressing news, and it perforce raises the question once again who this government is working for. The government knew that its own people, who had disappeared 30 years ago, were working to train North Korean spies, yet for nearly 10 years it never once raised the issue with Pyongyang. What's worse, it didn't even tell the families, who had agonized about their children's fate for 30 years."

Japan has instead taken the opposite line. Once the truth was revealed the Koizumi government acted so that since 2003 eight Japanese abductees have been repatriated.

A private Japanese association is helping the silent South Korean government by revealing to the world the crimes of the North Korean regime. Thanks to revelations by North Korean refugees to Prof Yoichi Shimada, who heads the association, Kim Jong-il, North Korea's current 'dear leader', signed a secret directive in 1976 "to use foreigners more systematically in order to improve the quality of our intelligence operations". Since then the number of abductions of Japanese and South Korean citizens took off. And the latest action by the Stalinist regime is astute and cruel since it seeks to split two families and two governments trying to work together.

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