SEOUL: A former North Korean agent who confessed to bombing a passenger jet in 1987 met Wednesday with relatives of a Japanese woman abducted to the Communist North in an encounter that shed little new light on the fate of the missing woman but was expected to anger North Korea.
The meeting, sponsored by the Japanese and South Korean governments amid rising tensions with the North, was the first public appearance of Kim Hyon Hui, the former North Korean agent, in almost 20 years, and was intensely covered by both Japanese and South Korean media.
In Tokyo, the government of Prime Minister Taro Aso hoped that Kim might provide fresh information about the kidnapped Japanese woman, Yaeko Taguchi, that could be used to press the North Korean government on other abduction cases. In Seoul, the conservative government of President Lee Myung Bak was investigating charges that the liberal administration that preceded him had pressured Kim to deny that she was a North Korean spy.
On Wednesday, Kim, 47, delivered no surprises. She repeated what she had already said in recent interviews: that she had studied Japanese with Taguchi, who was 22 when she vanished in Tokyo in 1978, as part of her espionage training. She would not comment on the charges against the previous Seoul government.
Koichiro Iizuka, Taguchi's 32-year-old son, said after his meeting with Kim that he was convinced his mother was alive, despite Pyongyang's claim that she was killed in a car accident in 1986.
Kim tried to dispel years of speculation about her identity by stressing that she was indeed an agent who planted a bomb on the Boeing 707 plane that exploded near Myanmar in 1987, killing all 115 people on board. She and an accomplice, who later committed suicide, were arrested in Bahrain two days later.
"I am not a fake," she said. "It was an act of terror by North Korea."
But at a news conference in the southern city of Busan, where Kim met Taguchi's relatives, Kim did not refute the North Korean claim about Taguchi's death. She said she "heard" in 1987 that Taguchi had been "sent somewhere" and that she had "assumed" at the time that Taguchi was still alive.
In 2002, North Korea admitted to kidnapping Taguchi and 12 other Japanese to help train its spies. It allowed five of them to return to Japan that year but said the others had died — an assertion Tokyo has not accepted.Share and Enjoy!