11.17 Sat

National

Spy sees kin of kidnap victim

Bomber tells Japanese family Taguchi was alive in ’87
Mar 12,2009

Your browser doesn’t support audio

Former North Korean spy Kim Hyun-hee greets Koichiro Iizuka, center, and Shigeo Iizuka, left, the son and brother, respectively, of Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted by North Korea decades ago, at the end of a news conference in Busan yesterday. [YONHAP]
BUSAN - In an emotional rendezvous yesterday under heavy security in this southern port city, Kim Hyun-hee, a former North Korean spy involved in the 1987 bombing of a South Korean civilian jetliner, met with the brother and son of a Japanese woman allegedly kidnapped by North Korea.

As part of her spy training, Kim says she had taken Japanese language and culture lessons from the woman, Yaeko Taguchi, from 1978 to 1980.

This was Kim’s first public appearance in the South in 18 years. After the bombing of the Korean Air jet that killed all 115 passengers onboard, Kim was sentenced to death. That sentence was commuted in 1990.

Though officials in Pyongyang have said Taguchi was killed in a car accident in 1986, Kim asserts she is still alive. Kim had asked for the meeting so that she could offer Taguchi’s 32-year-old son, Koichiro Iizuka, and 70-year-old brother Shigeo Iizuka more information on how Taguchi lived in North Korea after she was kidnapped in 1978 at the age of 22.

Yesterday’s occasion was arranged by the governments of South Korea and Japan. At a press conference attended by hundreds of journalists from the two countries, Kim thanked both governments and said she was elated to see Taguchi’s relatives.

“I wish she were here to share this joy,” a teary Kim said. “I heard back in 1987 in North Korea that Ms. Taguchi had been taken somewhere unknown. I didn’t think at the time that she’d died.”

In the 1970s and ’80s, more than 20 Japanese citizens were believed to have been abducted by the North. After years of denial, North Korea acknowledged in 2002 that it had abducted Japanese to make them teach the Japanese language to prospective North Korean secret agents. The North, however, has not accounted for all of the 13 Japanese citizens it acknowledged kidnapping.

The latest encounter could help the Japanese government apply more pressure on Pyongyang to release more information on the abductees. When asked if she hoped the meeting could be of any help in that regard, Kim said it was up to Tokyo and Pyongyang to work out the details.

“The Japanese government has been working on that front for 20 years, and I think they have to find ways to persuade North Korea without hurting the North’s pride,” Kim said. “Perhaps some miracle could happen. North Korea has been taken off the terrorism-support list the way it’d wanted. I think they should stop saying abductees are simply dead and start making an effort to bring them home.

“That would help North Korea become a part of the international community and improve its relations with Japan,” Kim added.

The meeting was guarded by heavy security out of fear that anti-North Korea activists and families of the bombing victims might attack Kim.

Kim married a former South Korean intelligence official in 1997 and has since kept a low profile. Before then, she published a book expressing her regret over her spying career and went on a lecture tour on North Korea-related issues.

Kim has said she learned of threats to her safety from the previous administration and the National Intelligence Service. She declined to offer details yesterday.

“As you all know, [threats] did occur,” Kim said. “But for me to say specific things ... I understand that the current administration is investigating what their predecessors did. I am just awaiting the results.”

On Nov. 28, 1987, Kim and a male agent planted a time bomb on a Korean Air Boeing 707 airliner flying from Baghdad to Seoul. After taking off from a refueling stop in Abu Dhabi the plane exploded in midair over the Andaman Sea near Burma - Myanmar today.


By Yeh Young-june JoongAng Ilbo / Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
All News