Friday, 30 January, 2009

Spy could shed light on fate of abducted Japanese

January 30, 2009
The Japanese government has asked the Blue House to facilitate a meeting between a former North Korean spy and the family of an abducted Japanese national who taught the spy Japanese.

Kim Hyun-hee, who was sentenced to death for her role in the 1987 bombing of Korean Air flight 858, which killed all 115 passengers on board, mostly South Koreans, has expressed a wish to meet the family of Yaeko Taguchi, a Japanese woman allegedly kidnapped by the North in 1978.

Kim claims that Taguchi is still alive, but Pyongyang said the kidnapped woman died in a car accident in 1986.

Officials in Seoul said yesterday that Akitaka Saiki, the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau director general, asked for assistance from his South Korean counterpart Cho Tai-young to help arrange the much-anticipated meeting.

Akitaka is in South Korea for a conference with Japanese diplomats here.

Kim, whose death sentence was commuted in 1990, expressed a desire to meet Taguchi’s family during a phone interview with Japan’s NHK broadcast station earlier this month.

Her announcement whipped up a frenzy of speculation in Japan, with expectations riding high that the former spy will shed new information on the fate of Taguchi, who disappeared in 1978 when she was 22.

Japanese intelligence said she was kidnapped by North Korean spies.

“I will make efforts [to help arrange a meeting] if that’s what Kim wants,” Japan’s Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone told reporters on Jan. 20, adding he would seek the cooperation of the South Korean government to further figure out Kim’s intention.

The 47-year-old Kim was trained in espionage from childhood. She and a male counterpart planted explosives on Korean Air flight 858 from Abu Dhabi to Seoul on Nov. 28 in 1987.

The two spies, disguised as Japanese tourists, tried to kill themselves before they were caught, but Kim survived.

Kim married a former official of the South Korean intelligence agency in 1997. Since then, Kim has kept a low profile, joining anti-communism campaigns.

In a Jan. 15 interview with NHK, Kim said she is “certain” that Taguchi is alive in the North and wants to offer words of hope to Taguchi’s family.

More than 20 Japanese citizens are believed to have been abducted by the North in the 1970s and 80s.

After decades of denial, Pyongyang finally admitted in 2002 that it had abducted several Japanese to get them to teach their language to North Korean spies.

By Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter/Yeh Young-june JoongAng Ilbo

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