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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Kidnapped Japanese visit home
Hitomi Soga, one of five Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents
The five looked thin but well
Five Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s have arrived in their home country for a short visit after almost a quarter of a century away.

The five - the only known survivors of at least 13 Japanese abducted by the North to help train its spies - were welcomed at Tokyo's Haneda airport by emotional relatives who showered them with large bouquets of roses.


He leaned down and hugged me and said, 'I'm sorry to have worried you'... And then the long 24 years seemed somehow a bit shorter

Mother of Kaoru Hasuike
Looking thin but well, and dressed in smart suits and dresses with pin-badges of the North Korean flag, the visitors burst into tears as they hugged their families.

Later they told a news conference that they were happy to be reunited with their relatives.

"I am so happy that I could meet you all again," said a beaming Fukie Hamamoto, who was snatched in 1978 with her then-fiancÚ.

A thin and solemn Kaoru Hasuike, who is also now married to the woman he was kidnapped with, said he was "sorry to have caused everyone such worry".

"I am truly happy to see that my parents are still well," he said.

The five visitors left the news conference after five minutes without taking any questions.

Their relatives expressed relief that their loved ones had not changed.


Megumi Yokota pictured before her abduction in 1977 (AP photo)
Megumi Yokota is said to have committed suicide
Japan's missing
  • Eight Japanese said to be dead
  • Five still alive in North Korea
  • Kim Jong-il says he has punished the culprits
    See also:

  • "We were all smiles and talking. I'm really happy that Fukie is just like the old Fukie," said Yuko Hamamoto of her sister.

    Kaoru Hasuike's mother, Hatsui, said she had resolved not to cry but could not help it.

    "He's really tall and he leaned down and hugged me and said, 'I'm sorry to have worried you,' she said. "And then the long 24 years seemed somehow a bit shorter."

    Kaoru's brother, Toru, said he had asked about the kidnapping but was told: "Not now, let's talk about it later."

    Quiet reunion

    The returnees have been unable to return with their children.

    Hitomi Soga, who is married to a former US soldier, Charles Robert Jenkins, has also been forced to leave her husband in North Korea.

    Even though North Korea says the kidnapped Japanese are now free to return to their home country if they wish, the families say the children are being kept in North Korea as hostages.

    Fukie Hamamoto, left, and her elder brother Yuko
    Fukie Hamamoto (left): 'I am so happy'

    The visitors will spend two days in Tokyo before returning to their Japanese hometowns on Thursday. They have no fixed departure date.

    The family members of the survivors doubt their loved ones' assertion that they want to remain living in North Korea.

    They hope to confirm their relatives' wishes by meeting them away from the authoritarian regime in Pyongyang.

    It is also hoped they may shed more light on the mystery of the eight abducted Japanese that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il says have died.

    Mr Kim's acknowledgement and apology for the kidnappings has paved the way for talks, to be held on 29 and 30 October in Kuala Lumpur, to discuss normalising relations between Japan and North Korea.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Charles Scanlon
    "It was a reunion that once seemed inconceivable"

    Nuclear tensions

    Inside North Korea

    Divided peninsula

    TALKING POINT
    See also:

    03 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
    15 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
    02 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
    27 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
    18 Sep 02 | Media reports
    17 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
    17 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
    17 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
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