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Trump to help Japan bring abductees home from North Korea, but families wary

TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he would work with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to bring home Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago, but family members warned him not to be duped.

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet with family members of people abducted by North Korea in Tokyo, Japan May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump, during a four-day state visit to Japan, spoke at a meeting with some of the family members of the people, who were abducted to train North Korean spies in the 1960s and 1970s, North Korean defectors have said.

Among the relatives Trump spoke to were the mother and brother of Megumi Yokota, who was 13 when she was snatched off a lonely beach on her way home from school and taken to North Korea. He met them in 2017, during a previous visit to Japan, and in the United States as well.

Trump has mentioned Megumi in past speeches, including at the United Nations, and at a news conference afterwards referred to families who had suffered “unthinkable heartbreak”.

Some of the relatives, including Megumi’s now 83-year-old mother, Sakie, told Trump they thought things might be changing after Trump’s two meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, most recently in Hanoi in February, where Trump raised the issue of the missing Japanese with Kim.

But others were more wary.

Takuya Yokota, Megumi’s younger brother, said he had told Trump he should not believe assurances Kim might have given on the abductees.

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“‘I know he lied to you as he’s liked to Japan by saying the abduction issue’s resolved’, I told him that directly,” Yokota, told a later news conference.

He said the biggest goal for families was to get all of the abductees home “immediately and together”.

“There’s a risk that they may try a partial solution or a solution by stages, and I told him this.”

Koichiro Iizuka, who was a toddler abandoned in a creche when his mother was abducted in 1978, thanked Trump but said the families also wanted results.

“We’ve gone along for 41 years without seeing our families and we’d like to have them home as soon as possible, and that we’d like to have the continuing help of the United States,” Iizuka said.

In 2002, North Korea admitted its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese decades before. Japan says 17 of its citizens were abducted, five of whom were repatriated. North Korea has said eight are dead, including Megumi, and that another four never entered the country.

Abe has vowed not to rest until all the abductees come home and sought Trump’s help on the issue.

Abe recently said he was ready to meet Kim without conditions, a shift from his long-held position of insisting on progress on the abductions before a summit could take place.

No date for a meeting between Abe and Kim has been set.

Takuya Yokota said he told Trump that just as he loved his family, his own parents - including his father Shigeru, 86, who has been ill in hospital for a year - loved Megumi.

“The difference is that, for 41 years, they haven’t been able to fulfil that love.”

With additional reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Robert Birsel