North Korean security officers are carefully guarding the remains of Japanese citizens kidnapped 40 years ago by state agents, monitoring the storage of their ashes in advance of possible talks normalizing relations between the two countries, sources in Pyongyang say.
The remains are kept in urns at a storage facility in the Nakrang district of Pyongyang, a source in the capital told RFA’s Korean Service.
“The State Security Department has been taking care of the remains of the dead abductees, reporting their cause of death as illness and secretly cremating them,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“As talks between North Korea and Japan are expected, the Central Committee has recently been double-checking the condition of the remains,” he said.
The last Japanese abductee known to have died was a woman named Yokota Megumi, later called Kim Seon Mi in Korean, who passed away in April 2012, RFA’s source said.
“She was sent to Prison Camp No. 1 in 2010 after being convicted of homicide. Later, she was transferred to a mental facility, No. 49 Hospital in Sungho county near Pyongyang, but she died while receiving treatment,” he said.
Some may still be held
Also speaking to RFA, a second source in Pyongyang said that two crematories in Pyongyang, one in Nakrang district and the other in Taesong, were constructed with funds donated by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.
“Pyongyang citizens are aware of the source of the donations, but they don’t know that Japanese abductees have been cremated there,” he said.
Some abductees are still living in a special residential area in the outskirts of Pyongyang, the source said, adding, “Their lives are completely controlled by the State Security Department.”
“I don’t know their names, but they are teaching Japanese language to officials at [North Korea’s intelligence service] the Reconnaissance General Bureau and to spies,” he said.
Beginning in 1977, at least 17 Japanese citizens were abducted by North Korean agents, with some kidnapped in Japan and others abducted while traveling abroad, according to Japanese government figures cited last month by South Korea’s Yonhap news service.
Over 800 other Japanese citizens have been reported “missing and possibly abducted,” with their status unknown, Yonhap said.
Of the 13 Japanese citizens North Korea admits to having held, eight have died, and five have already been sent home to Japan, Pyongyang says.