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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Red Army families seek Japanese home
Ritsuko Konishi, 23, Azumi Tanaka, 22 and Asaka Tamiya, 22
Other relatives have already moved to Japan
Six family members of Japanese Red Army guerrillas, who have been living in fugitive in North Korea, have arrived in Japan where they hope to settle.

Five of them are the children of activists who hijacked a Japan Airlines plane in 1970 and forced it to fly to North Korea. They were all born in the Stalinist state and have never been to Japan before.

Fusako Shigenobu
Red Army leader Shigenobu, pictured in 1985, was caught in 2000
They were accompanied by Takako Konishi, wife of Red Army member Takahiro Konishi, who was arrested upon arrival.

The Red Army hijackers were initially given a hero's welcome by Pyongyang, but experts say that as North Korea tries to improve ties with Japan they have become an embarrassment.

First time in Japan

Among those returning on Tuesday were Mrs Konishi's 22-year-old daughter, the 22-year-old daughter of alleged hijacker Shiro Akagi, and Hiromi Okamoto, the eldest daughter of activist Takeshi Okamoto, who has since died.

They were joined by the sons of Red Army members Moriaki Wakabayashi and Kimihiro Abe.

Mrs Konishi, was arrested on charges of violating Japan's passport control law, having ignored an order to surrender her passport, the Metropolitan Police Department said.

Positions of privilege

When the nine hijackers first settled they were given positions of privilege in North Korea and special accommodation in a prestigious compound on the outskirts of the capital.

Years later they were also provided with Japanese wives, who arrived in North Korea under mysterious circumstances.

But Jonathan Watts, Japan correspondent for London's Guardian newspaper, told the BBC's East Asia Today programme that their position has since deteriorated and they are now living in normal accommodation and have to work to support themselves.

In July, the four hijackers remaining in the Stalinist state asked to be allowed to return home. Their presence has been cited by Washington as one of the reasons it has dubbed North Korea a terrorist state.

Three of the others have died, and two were arrested after they secretly returned to Japan.

Other family members of Red Army hijackers came to settle in Japan in May and September last year.

The notorious hijack marked a more dangerous turn by Japan's radical student movement in the 1960s.

The BBC's Cece Leadon
"The group was born out of the anti-Vietnam war movement"
The Guardian's Jonathan Watts
"North Korea is keen to get this very old problem cleared up"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

See also:

15 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
15 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
30 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
08 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
28 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
18 Mar 00 | Middle East
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