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Shigeru Yokota, tragic figure in North Korea abductions issue, dies

Father never saw the return of his daughter kidnapped in 1977 at the age of 13

Shigeru Yokota gained respect across the nation for his work with other abduction victims' relatives in pressing the Japanese government to rescue their children and siblings. (Photo by Tomoki Mera)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Shigeru Yokota, father of Megumi Yokota, a symbolic figure in the issue of North Korea's abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, died Friday, a source close to him said. He was 87.

Yokota, who worked with other abduction victims' relatives in pressing the government to rescue their children and siblings, whom they believe are still alive in the North, died without ever seeing Megumi again. She was kidnapped on her way home from school in 1977, at the age of 13.

At the time, the family was living in Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast after Yokota, an employee of the Bank of Japan, was transferred to a local branch of the central bank.

Yokota and his wife Sakie, along with seven other families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents, formed a group in March 1997.

The group has since worked tirelessly to raise public awareness of the issue, maintaining hope for the return of the victims even in the face of worsening relations between Japan and North Korea due to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development programs.

Yokota served as the group's chief for more than 10 years to November 2007, when he resigned due to health reasons.

As Japan seeks cooperation from the United States to resolve the abductions issue, U.S. President Donald Trump made a reference to Megumi in his address to the U.N. General Assembly in September 2017, saying, "We know it (North Korea) kidnapped a sweet 13-year-old Japanese girl from a beach in her own country to enslave her as a language tutor for North Korea's spies."

Japan officially lists 17 nationals as abductees but suspects North Korea was involved in more disappearances. While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang maintains that eight, including Megumi, have died, and the other four never entered the country.

The North initially said Megumi killed herself while being treated for depression in 1993, but later changed the year of her death to 1994.

Japan rejects the claim that she has died, in part because the cremated remains Pyongyang submitted, saying they were hers, turned out not to be through DNA tests conducted in Japan.

North Korea says Megumi married Kim Young Nam, a South Korean who is believed to have been abducted as a teenager, in the North in 1986, and the couple had a daughter the following year.

The Yokotas were allowed by Pyongyang to secretly meet with their granddaughter Kim Eun Gyong in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar in March 2014.

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