Newspaper- Tokyo helped Japanese escape from North Korea

Sunday, November 10, 2002

TOKYO -- Japan has been smuggling citizens who left for North Korea back home for almost a decade, but in secret so it would not anger China or North Korea, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The Justice and Foreign Ministries secretly issued travel documents from third countries, primarily China, to at least 40 people since 1994 to let them return to Japan, the daily Yomiuri Shimbun said, citing unidentified ministry sources.

About 2,000 Japanese were lured to the communist nation during a 1959-1970 campaign in which North Korea cast itself as a paradise.

They were forbidden from leaving North Korea, so some escaped to other countries and sought Japanese help to go home, the report said.

Tokyo hid the fact that it was bringing back its citizens and their families to avoid angering Beijing and Pyongyang, the newspaper said. China, North Korea's only major ally, is obliged by treaty to send home North Koreans caught in its territory.

The report could further complicate Tokyo's efforts to secure the permanent return of five citizens abducted by North Korea and their families to Japan. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il unexpectedly admitted in September that his nation kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s.

North Korea allowed the abductees to visit Japan on Oct. 15, but Tokyo has refused to send them back and is demanding that Pyongyang send their families to Japan.

A North Korean Red Cross official said Saturday that Tokyo was "inhumanely separating children from their parents" for keeping the five Japanese while their children remained in North Korea.

Ri Ho Rim, who accompanied the abductees to Japan, made the comments in Tokyo before returning to Pyongyang. He accused Japan of breaking its promise to send the five back to North Korea.

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