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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Red Army daughters return to Japan
Ritsuko Konishi, 23, Azumi Tanaka, 22 and Asaka Tamiya, 22
The women are to be reunited with relatives
Three daughters of former Japanese Red Army guerrillas who settled in North Korea have arrived for the first time in Japan, where they will settle.

The three women, all in their early 20s, were born and raised in North Korea - daughters of Red Army members who defected to the country after hijacking a Japan Airlines plane to Pyongyang in 1970.


I am hoping to find my own happiness and purpose in life there in Japan

Ritsuko Konishi

In the notorious hijack, which marked a more dangerous turn by Japan's radical student movement in the 1960s, nine Red Army army members seized a plane on an internal flight and forced it to fly to North Korea.

Gratitude

The women will stay with relatives in Japan and plan to settle permanently, said Yukio Yamanaka, a representative of a citizen's group who helped facilitate their return.

Yoshimi Tanaka
One of the women's fathers, Yoshimi Tanaka, is on trial in Tokyo
Their Japanese mothers - who came to North Korea to marry Red Army members given asylum by Pyongyang - had postponed their return, fearing prosecution for violating passport regulations.

One of the women, Ritsuko Konishi, 23, said she was nervous about her new life, and conveyed her "deepest gratitude" to those who had helped her return to Japan.

"I want to familiarise myself soon with the lifestyle in Japan and work," she said in a letter to Japan's Kyodo news agency.

Privileged lives

The United States has been increasing pressure for the expulsion of members of the group, demanding that North Korea disassociate itself from terrorism if it wants better relations.

The families are believed to have privileged lives in North Korea.

Fusako Shigenobu
Red Army leader Shigenobu, pictured in 1985, was caught last year
One of the women's fathers, Yoshimi Tanaka, who is currently on trial to Tokyo after being extradited from Thailand, was believed to be a spy.

He was reported to have been travelling in a North Korean diplomatic vehicle when he was arrested in Cambodia.

Mr Tanaka has apologised to passengers of the hijacked aircraft.

The leader of the group, Fusako Shigenobu, was caught last year after being on the run for years.

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See also:

15 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Hijacker admits guilt after 30 years
30 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japanese Red Army leader charged
08 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Red Army's reign of terror
28 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Red Army hijack suspect returns
18 Mar 00 | Middle East
Red Army guerrillas arrested
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