Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday met with relatives of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s and pledged to do everything in his power to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
“I won’t consider my political career ended until I see all abductees returned to their families,” Abe told members of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, TV Asahi reported.
Abe was part of then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s delegation that visited Pyongyang in 2002 for a landmark meeting at which North Korea admitted for the first time that it had abducted Japanese citizens.
Five abductees were returned to Japan shortly after. After that, Pyongyang said the rest had either died or were never in North Korea. It said the issue had been resolved and it has maintained that stance ever since.
However, successive Japanese governments have said that at least eight abductees remain unaccounted for, including Megumi Yokota, who was taken at the age of 13 in 1977. Her parents were at Friday’s meeting.
At the outset of the meeting, Abe apologized to the group for stepping down as prime minister in 2007, TV Asahi reported. He promised that his government will do its best to deliver results, and not just empty words. Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Keiji Furuya, minister in charge of the abduction issue, also attended the meeting.
Shigeo Iizuka, head of the relatives’ association, said the group had become frustrated with the frequent changes of leadership over the past six years, with a new minister in charge of the abduction issue being appointed each time and having to start negotiations from scratch. Iizuka said the relatives are aging and that time is running out for them.