Relatives prepare for reunion with kidnapped Japanese

TOKYO -- It is a homecoming Yuko Hamamoto has awaited for decades. Next week his sister will return to Japan for the first time since she was abducted by North Korean spies nearly a quarter century ago.

But it is a homecoming fraught with uncertainty for Hamamoto and the four other families to be reunited with their kin. The visitors will be allowed to stay only a week or two before being taken back to communist North Korea and are unable to bring their children, and in one case an American husband, along.

The five are the only known survivors of at least 15 Japanese Tokyo says were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies in Japanese language and culture. North Korea has admitted abducting all but two of the 15, but support groups say the real number of abductees is much higher, with estimates of 50 or 60.

One day after being informed by government officials that his sister, Fukie, and the other surviving abductees will be allowed to visit, Hamamoto said Thursday he still doesn't really know what to expect when they start arriving next Tuesday.

"I haven't heard from the government what time they're coming or anything," Hamamoto told the Associated Press in a phone interview.

Putting family at ease

All he can say for sure now is that he wants to put his sister at ease during her return to a town and family she hasn't seen since 1978.

"I don't want to excite her too much, and so plan to take it easy," Hamamoto said.

"I've been asking the media not to make too much fuss, because she may wind up thinking Japan is a very noisy place and not like it."

Tamotsu Chimura, whose son Yasushi was abducted together with Fukie from their seaside hometown, joined other relatives Wednesday in accusing North Korea of holding their grandchildren, nieces, and nephews hostage while the kidnap survivors come home. The survivors won't be able to speak freely knowing their children are still in the North, they said.

According to Japan's government, North Korea said the survivors themselves wanted to leave their children behind.

Tokyo said it is pushing for another return -- with family members -- in the future. Foreign Ministry official Hitoshi Tanaka said Tokyo was prepared to issue Japanese passports to the survivors before they return to North Korea, which would facilitate future travel.

Japan has made resolving the abduction issue, a precondition of normalizing relations with North Korea. The issue is expected to take top priority when the two countries resume talks Oct. 29-30 to establish diplomatic ties.