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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 May, 2004, 19:30 GMT 20:30 UK
Japan's lost children are freed
Children of Japanese abductees leave North Korea
The group headed for a new life in Japan
Five young men and women whose parents were abducted by North Korea have been reunited with their families in Japan.

There were tears and hugs at Tokyo airport when they touched down after a flight from Pyongyang.

Their release was secured by the Japanese prime minister, who promised to give North Korea food aid and $10m of medical supplies in return.

But as he returned home he was criticised for having no information on 10 other abductees.

And there were mixed feelings about three relatives who felt they could not return from North Korea.

Breakthrough at summit

The Japanese leader Junichiro Koizumi flew to Pyongyang hoping for a breakthrough, in what North Korea's state news agency called a "historic" summit.

During Mr Koizumi's only previous visit, in 2002, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il admitted that several Japanese had been kidnapped during the Cold War to train the country's spies in the language and culture.

There was outrage in Japan, and North Korea soon agreed that they - but not their Korean-born children - could return home.

Megumi Yokota (file picture)
Snatched in the '70s and '80s
Used as cultural trainers for N Korean spies
Five allowed home in 2002
Five children now freed from N Korea
Eight said to be dead, others missing

After the latest meeting, their offspring were allowed to fly to Japan on Saturday, to be greeted by their parents. Mr Koizumi returned home at the same time.

"I have been praying that such a day would come as soon as possible, so I am happy," said one of the parents, Fukie Chimura, who was abducted in 1978.

However, they were not accompanied by former US soldier Charles Robert Jenkins, who is married to one of the returned abductees, and their two children.

Mr Koizumi said that Mr Jenkins, who is wanted by the US military for desertion and could face arrest if he does go to Tokyo, refuses to leave North Korea.

Despite the imminent arrival of his two North Korean-born children, Toru Hasuike said he was sad that Mr Jenkins' wife, Hitomi Soga, could not share their joy.

"I don't feel happy at all ... I have no words to console Ms Soga," he said.

The Japanese prime minister has been under strong domestic pressure to secure the release of the relatives of people freed by the communist state two years ago.

Hitomi Soga, a Japanese woman abducted by North Korea and released much later
Ms Soga will not be reunited with her husband and children
But families of other missing Japanese took him to task when he arrived home.

In a meeting, they blamed him for failing to gain a major compromise from Mr Kim on 10 of their relatives.

North Korea claims eight had died of natural causes, while two had never entered the country, but the relatives are sceptical.

Improving relations

Correspondents say North Korea's decision to release the relatives marks a significant breakthrough in relations.

The BBC's Tokyo correspondent Charles Scanlon says the issue of the abductees and their children has dominated Japanese politics and relations with Pyongyang, overshadowing even North Korea's development of nuclear weapons.

However, Mr Koizumi and Mr Kim also made progress on the stand-off caused by North Korea's nuclear programme during their 90-minute summit, the Japanese prime minister told reporters.

"Chairman Kim Jong-Il said he aimed to de-nuclearise the Korean Peninsula. He said he wanted to make efforts towards a peaceful solution by utilising the six-way talks," Mr Koizumi said.

The North Korean state news agency said: "The meeting and talks between the top leaders of the DPRK [North Korea] and Japan mark an important and historic event in restoring confidence, improving the relations between the two countries and promoting peace and stability in Asia and the rest of the world."

The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"It took intervention at the highest level to get the children out"

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