Japanese woman abducted by North Korea an icon, but South Korean husband forgotten

Wed Jul 2, 2014 5:48pm EDT
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By Ju-min Park

JEONJU South Korea (Reuters) - Kim Young-nam was a teenager living on the coast of South Korea when he disappeared in 1978, only to turn up in North Korea. There, he met and married Megumi Yokota, a Japanese national abducted by North Korean agents on her way home from school a year previously.

They lived together and had a daughter, with the relationship ending when Yokota committed suicide, according to North Korean officials. Japan has not accepted the version of her fate. Kim was last heard of living in North Korea.

But the contrast in how they are remembered in their home countries is stark.

More than 35 years after her kidnap, Yokota has become a symbol of Japan's all-out effort to bring back at least a dozen of its citizens believed to be held by the North.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reopened dialogue with isolated North Korea and offered to ease sanctions in return for answers on the abductees, in what he has made a signature issue of his term in office. The two sides held talks on Tuesday in Beijing.

Kim, one of more than 500 South Korean civilians thought to have been abducted and held in the North, is all but forgotten.

"Prime Minister Abe ... obviously pushed for much more, and it begs the question: what is our government doing for those 500 people?", his sister, Kim Young-ja, 56, said in an interview on Wednesday.

"It is so hard for us. There is nothing we can do, the victims, nothing," she said through tears at a tea house she runs in Jeonju, a city in the southwest of South Korea.   Continued...

Kim Young-ja, a sister of Kim Young-nam who is a South Korean abductee living in North Korea, cries during an interview with Reuters in Jeonju July 2, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji