U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday met with the families of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, on the second day of his first visit to Japan and following meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The families, who visited Trump at the State Guesthouse of Akasaka Palace in Tokyo, included Sakie Yokota, the mother of abductee Megumi Yokota, who was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1977, as well as Shigeo Iizuka, the head of a group of abductees’ families, and former abductee Hitomi Soga, who returned to Japan in 2002 in the wake of a visit to Pyongyang by then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump stood with the nearly two dozen relatives, some of whom held photos of the missing.
“We’ve just heard the very sad stories about family members — daughters, wives, brothers, uncles, fathers – it’s a very, very sad number of stories that we’ve heard,” Trump said in a nationally-televised press conference after the meeting. “They were abducted in all cases by North Korea and we will work with Prime Minister Abe on trying to get them back to their loved ones.”
“My sincere hope is through this event I would like to encourage the entire world to know the simple reality when it comes to abduction issues,” Abe said. “There are those people who are suffering from being deprived of their loved ones for 40 long years.”
The meeting followed talks between Trump and Abe, after which the Japanese Prime Minister told press he will officially announce on Tuesday the freezing of the assets of 35 North Korean groups and individuals in new unilateral sanctions.
The new measures, Tokyo’s second this year, will be approved by the Japanese cabinet tomorrow.
Megumi Yokota was kidnapped when she was 13, with her parents only discovering she had been abducted by North Korean agents two decades later. They have since become high-profile activist for abduction victims and their families.
“Even after 40 years, my precious child has not been released yet,” Sakie Yokota told reporters before her meeting with Trump. “I would like to convey (to Trump) the sorrow of parents, the loneliness and suffering. And I would like to ask for his help.”
Shigeo Iizuka’s sister, Yaeko Taguchi, was abducted and taken to North Korea in 1978.
Hitomi Soga was kidnapped along with her mother – who remains unaccounted for – the same year. Her daughter also remains in the DPRK.
This is the third time that the families have met with a sitting U.S. president, having had audiences George W. Bush and Barack Obama in 2006 and 2014, respectively.
The Japanese government says 17 of its citizens were taken to North Korea between 1977 and 1983. Five of them returned to Japan following summit talks between then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then-DPRK leader Kim Jong Il in 2002. 12 remain unaccounted for.
Megumi Yokota disappeared on her way home from a junior-high school in Niigata city, about 200 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, on the evening of November 15, 1977.
North Korea has claimed Yokota committed suicide in 1994 and returned a set of remains, but a Japanese government DNA test showed the remains could not be hers.
The abducted Japanese nationals, including Megumi Yokota, are believed to have been forced to teach Japanese language and culture to North Korean intelligence agents for covert operations against South Korea.
The Japanese Prime Minister has said he proposed the meeting with the abductees’ families to Trump at a summit on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last month.
Trump referenced the case of Megumi Yokota during his first speech to the UN General Assembly in September, during which he threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea.
The President heads to South Korea on Tuesday, and is set to meet with President Moon Jae-in in the afternoon before an address to the National Assembly the next day.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Screengrab, NHK
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