TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese man thought to have been kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago but whose presence there had never been confirmed is alive and living in the North Korean capital with his family, Kyodo news agency said on Friday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea to be trained as spies a top priority and the news could mean renewed diplomatic pressure on Japan’s reclusive neighbor to reveal the truth at a time when ties with South Korea have also become increasingly fraught.
North Korea had denied that Minoru Tanaka, a restaurant worker who Japan believes was kidnapped in or around 1978 after he set off for Europe, ever entered the country.
“It was discovered on Friday that North Korea had told Japan that the former ramen (noodles) shop worker, who was 28 when he disappeared, is married and living in Pyongyang with his wife and children,” Kyodo said, quoting unnamed Japanese government sources.
In 2002, North Korea said that it kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, and five returned home. Japan believes 17 of its citizens were abducted, five of whom were repatriated. Eight were said by North Korea to have died, while four were said to have never entered the country.
The information about Tanaka had been conveyed to Japan several times from 2014, Kyodo said. It said last year that Tanaka may have entered North Korea.
No further details were available and Japanese Foreign Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are holding their second summit later this month, but Japan has been unable to arrange a meeting with Kim, raising fears that it is being sidelined diplomatically in the region.
Tokyo’s ties with South Korea have been strained recently by a number of issues, including a dispute over World War Two forced labor, including “comfort women” forced to work in military brothels.
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Nick Macfie