November 7, 2014 / 3:23 AM / 3 years ago

Japanese woman abducted by North Korea died of drug overdose: report

SEOUL (Reuters) - Megumi Yokota, a Japanese national abducted by North Korean agents decades ago as a schoolgirl, died from an overdose of medication in 1994 and was buried in a pit with other corpses, a South Korean newspaper said on Friday.

Yokota, who has been an iconic symbol of Japanese nationals abducted by the North and Tokyo’s efforts to ascertain their fate, died of an overdose of sedatives and sleeping pills in a psychiatric ward, South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration eased some sanctions on North Korea in July in return for Pyongyang’s reopening of a probe into the fate of Japanese citizens abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

Dong-a Ilbo said the finding was included in a report by Japanese officials who had interviewed North Korean witnesses who were on the staff of the hospital where Yokota died, and Abe’s administration had been briefed about the fresh details.

Abe, whose government is under fire for fund-related scandals in his cabinet, has made resolving the abductee issue a priority. Last week, he said the North had told Japan it intended to deepen its probe into their fate.

Pyongyang admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens to help train spies, and five abductees and their families later returned to Japan.

Japan wants to know about the fate of the remaining eight, who Pyongyang has said have died, and others that Tokyo believes were also kidnapped.

Yokota was snatched off a beach in northern Japan on her way home from school in 1977 at the age of 13. Pyongyang has said she had committed suicide after suffering from mental diseases.

Japan has never accepted North Korea’s explanation of Yokota’s death, after bones North Korea said were hers were shown by DNA testing to be those of a man.

The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said two North Koreans who were on the staff of the hospital gave testimony that Yokota was given sedatives and sleeping pills that exceeded safe doses.

“At the time of the patient’s death, there were blue marks all over her body,” one of them was quoted as saying. That was an indication that poison or excessive medication was taken or injected, the person was quoted as saying.

Her body was dumped in a pit to be buried without a coffin, the report said.

While in the North, she married a South Korean abductee named Kim Young-nam in 1986, and they had a daughter. Yokota died in 1994, said Kim, who was one of more than 500 South Korean civilians thought to have been abducted by the North and who was briefly reunited with his South Korean family in 2006.

At the rare family reunion event held by the two Koreas, he said Yokota had suffered from depression and schizophrenia and repeatedly attempted suicide.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Jack Kim and Clarence Fernandez

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