Missing Japanese Girl Kidnapped by North Korea Still Elicits Ire

Nearly 30 years after a 13-year-old girl in northern Japan was kidnapped by North Koreans, her abduction still elicits anger.

President Bush mentioned the kidnapping during his news conference with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Thursday.

"I just could not imagine what it would be like to have someone have taken, you know, my daughter -- one of my daughters -- and never be able to see her again," Bush said. "What kind of regime would kidnap people? Just take them offshore?"

That is the exact question Megumi Yokota's parents have been asking for almost three decades.

Mystery Solved?

On Nov. 15, 1977, Megumi was kidnapped by North Korean agents near her house in Niigata, in northern Japan.

"We had no idea of what happened to her," said Sakie Yokota, Megumi's 70-year-old mother, who met with Bush in the Oval Office this spring. "She just did not come home, and we have not seen her since then."

After years of silence, Kim Jong Il, the leader of North Korea, made an astonishing revelation in 2002. He said that North Korea had abducted Megumi and 12 other Japanese people.

The Yokotas had hoped to reunite with their daughter, but it was too late.

North Korean officials say Megumi, who suffered depression, killed herself in the 1990s. Many Japanese residents, including the Yokotas, however, do not believe Megumi is dead because North Korea hasn't presented solid proof of her death.

Megumi is believed to have married a South Korean abductee, Kim Yong-Nam, and conceived a daughter, Kim Hye Gyon, an 18-year-old who attends school in North Korea.

Kim Yong-Nam is now married to another woman in North Korea and has one son with her.

The North Korean government arranged a surprise family reunion with Kim Yong-Nam and his family, which took place the day before Bush and Koizumi discussed the abductions and pledged to work together for the resolution.

Kim's 78-year-old mother and 48-year-old sister traveled to North Korea to see their long-lost family member for the first time in 28 years.

Raising Awareness

Bush's comments about the kidnappings came on the heels of "Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story," a recently released documentary chronicling the abductions by two Canadian filmmakers.

"Americans know almost nothing about this," said Chris Sheridan, who co-directed the film along with his wife, Patty Kim.

The filmmakers traveled to Japan for a special showing of the documentary.

"Every time we show the film, the response is the same," Kim said. "People are very, very moved by the Yokota family and all the other families and their struggle. But they [the Yokotas] are just ordinary people, and in November of 1977 they were just like you and me."

Sheridan said he and his wife had read newspaper accounts of the kidnappings when Koizumi had visited North Korea four years ago.

"When we heard the story from across the ocean, it completely shocked us," he said.

Desperate for Attention

Most of the kidnappings took place during the 1970s and '80s. Japanese activists say that there may have been as many as 100 kidnappings.

Sightings of other abducted Asian citizens, such as Thais, also have been reported in the North.

In the movie, a former North Korean agent said that abducted Japanese citizens often taught Japanese language and customs to intelligence agents who were later sent to Japan.

Koizumi may attempt to visit North Korea before his term ends in September. However, no announcement has been made.

North Korean officials insist they have no more information to offer on past abductions. However, Japan still believes a number of its citizens remain in North Korea against their will.

Although political tension increases around North Korea, the abductees' families and their supporters hope this will not slow down the effort to rescue their loved ones and are calling for international attention.

"Japan should not yield," Sakie Yokota said. "We will not be fooled by the North again. Japan and the rest of the world should not turn their back on them."