Five Japanese kidnapped by North Korea decades ago agreed today to make clear to Pyongyang that they are willingly staying in the land of their birth.
North Korea alleges the abductees -- who returned in October for what was to have been a two-week visit -- are being kept in Japan against their wishes, and is refusing to comply with Tokyo's demand that it send their seven children and the American husband of one abductee to Japan.
The abductees hope to prompt North Korea to allow their families to leave by taking a firm stand, the brother of one said.
"They were worried about how their remarks and actions could affect their families they left behind in North Korea," said Toru Hasuike. "But now they want to take action that can possibly move things forward."
Hasuike's younger brother, Kaoru, was abducted from a beach by North Korean agents 24 years ago. He is now in Japan with his wife and fellow abductee, Yukiko.
The five, all in their forties, gathered for their first reunion since returning to Japan. The three-day get-together is providing the five with a rare chance to talk with one another in private for long hours. Although not everyone in the group was acquainted in North Korea, they have spoken by telephone since returning to Japan.
The meeting also allows the group to console Hitomi Soga, who left her American husband, Charles Robert Jenkins, in Pyongyang. The other abductees are couples and had to leave children in North Korea.
Reversing years of denial, North Korea admitted in September that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in Japanese language and culture.
The North says only the five now in Japan are alive.
The abductees' return was initially applauded as a step toward normalizing relations between Japan and North Korea, but Japanese public opinion soured over the abductions and the North's later admission that it has been secretly developing nuclear weapons. Talks to establish diplomatic relations ran aground in late October.