Families Seek Answers In N. Korea Abductions

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 23, 2006

Teruaki Masumoto's older sister left their Tokyo home one day in August 1978 and never returned. Nearly three decades later, Masumoto was in Washington yesterday in his relentless and emotional quest to find her.

Several years ago, North Korea acknowledged that Rumiko Masumoto and her boyfriend, Shuichi Ichikawa, were among 13 Japanese abducted by agents in the late 1970s and early 1980s. North Korean officials said the abductees were taken so North Korea could learn more about Japanese language and culture. North Korea allowed five to return to Japan in 2002 and said the rest died.

Masumoto and other family members have rejected the claims based on a lack of evidence.

In Lafayette Square, across from the White House, Masumoto joined about 50 Americans, Japanese and South Koreans who say they want the United States and other nations to pressure North Korea so they can finally learn the truth about the whereabouts of the missing.

"We believe we have to get them back," Masumoto, 50, said through a translator. His sister was 24 when she was abducted.

Many believe that as many as 250 Japanese have been kidnapped since the 1970s, as well as many South Koreans and people from other countries. Although the issue is well publicized in Japan, most Americans are not familiar with the abductions, said Izumi Asano, 54, who organized yesterday's rally.

"We have to spread the issue to the world," said Asano, of Rockville, who came to the United States in 1984 after marrying an American. He said his mother's cousin was abducted, although the cousin is not officially recognized by the Japanese government as having been taken.

Some Americans might be familiar with the story of Charles Jenkins, a U.S. soldier who wound up in North Korea during the Korean War. His family said he was abducted, but the U.S. military believes he defected. Nonetheless, it turns out that he is married to Hitomi Soga, a Japanese abductee who was repatriated in 2002.

The organization that put together yesterday's event, Rescuing Abductees Center for Hope, was founded last summer by Asano after he learned that a documentary was being made by Canadian filmmakers about one of the victims. The film, "Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story," directed by Patty Kim and Chris Sheridan, will be screened in Boston tomorrow.

Masumoto and others involved in publicizing the abduction issue will be there. On Thursday, Sakie Yokota, Megumi's mother, is scheduled to testify in Washington before the House Committee on International Relations.

Yesterday, on a small stage set with microphones, speakers read letters written to abductees from family members, recited the names of kidnapping victims and sang songs in Japanese and Korean. Volunteers held signs with pictures of the missing and placards that read "Free My Family."

Under an off-and-on drizzle, a handful of onlookers stopped to watch the proceedings. The event might have been most remarkable in that the Japanese and South Korean contingents were working collaboratively, even though their governments have had strained relations.

Kim Byung Do, 50, was one of four South Koreans in attendance who say they were abducted by the North. The fisherman said he was 23 when he and five others were taken off a boat by agents and interrogated in North Korea, where he remained until 2003, when he escaped to China and met relatives there.

"I want to say to the U.S. government for them to help and stress the importance of the issue of North Korean abductions," Kim said through a translator.

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