Five kidnapping victims return from North Korea

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

TOKYO -- Five Japanese kidnapping victims who were whisked away in their youth by North Korean spies finally came home Tuesday, tearfully hugging their aging mothers and fathers for the first time in nearly a quarter century.

The reunion marked a major thaw in relations between Japan and North Korea's enigmatic ruling regime, which appears to be easing its long-standing belligerence toward the outside world in search of economic aid.

But the homecoming -- perhaps the most emotional this country has experienced since troops returned after World War II -- was tempered by concerns about the abductees' future and outrage over the deaths of eight others.

The delicate position of the five, all now in their 40s, was underscored at a news conference hours after their arrival on a chartered jet from Pyongyang.

The five -- who were not allowed to bring their children with them and who are expected to return to North Korea in about 10 days -- all wore North Korean flag pins in their lapels and spoke only a few carefully chosen words.

"I truly wanted to see my family," said Hitomi Soga, who is married to an American defector.

"I can't express how happy I am to see my parents' healthy faces," said Kaoru Hasuike, who was a college student when he was abducted while on a date in 1978.

"I'm sorry for making you worry about me for so long," said Yukiko Okudo, who was seized with Hasuike after they met at a library.

They married in North Korea and have raised a son there.

After meeting their families and a crowd of flag-waving supporters at Tokyo's Haneda airport, where they were presented with bouquets of red and pink roses, the five abductees looked tired and a bit bewildered as they walked arm-in-arm from the tarmac with their relatives.

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