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Former N. Korean Spy Holds Meeting with Abductee Family

By Kurt Achin
11 March 2009

A former North Korean spy has met with family members of a Japanese woman who was apparently abducted by the North's agents. Kim Hyun-hee - once sentenced to death for blowing up an airliner - says she may have information about the Japanese woman's fate.

Former North Korean spy Kim Hyun-hee wiped tears from her eyes, Wednesday, as she spoke to the brother and son of a Japanese woman who disappeared decades ago.

Kim told the relatives not to give up hope and that they will see the woman again.

Kim Hyun-hee has not appeared in such a high-profile way since 1991 - when she spoke to the South Korean public about an act of terrorism she was convicted of committing, four years earlier. Kim says she placed a bomb on a Korean Airlines flight that exploded in midair, killing all 115 people on board. For that crime, she was sentenced to die, then given a South Korean presidential pardon.

To fulfill her mission, Kim posed with another North Korean agent as a married Japanese couple. She says was able to speak and act as a Japanese person because she was taught for two years by Yaeko Taguchi - the woman whose family says she was abducted to North Korea in 1978.

Wednesday's emotional meeting between Kim and two of Taguchi's male family members took place in Busan. It was arranged, amid secrecy and high security, by the governments of South Korea and Japan after Kim said she wanted to help provide information about Taguchi.

North Korea has admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970's and 80's, mainly to train spies. Pyongyang has allowed five of them to leave the country, but says the others, including Taguchi, are dead. Kim does not believe that. She says she saw Taguchi a year after North Korea says she was killed in a car crash.

Kim told Taguchi's 70-year-old brother, Iizuka Shigeo, that she could see a clear family resemblance. Iizuka called the meeting a "historic occasion." He says he hopes the meeting will help to resolve the issue of Japanese abductions by North Korea.

Taguchi's 32-year-old son, Iizuka Koichiro, was just an infant when Taguchi disappeared in 1978. Kim embraced him at the meeting and offered to be his "South Korean mother."

After meeting Kin, Iizuka said he has strong hope that his mother is alive and that she might be rescued. He also says he hopes the meeting gives encouragement to families of South Korean abductees. Seoul believes the North has kidnapped about 400 of its citizens since the two sides fought their war in the 1950's.

Some relatives of the victims of the Korean Airlines disaster, 22 years ago, do not believe Kim Hyun-hee's version of events - or even that she was a real North Korean agent. Instead, they suspect the incident was somehow manipulated for political purposes by the South's authoritarian military government of the time.

Kim sought to put the matter to rest Wednesday.

She says she is not a hoax and that it was North Korea that planned and executed the bombing. She says she is willing to meet with family members of the victims, if they will accept that fact.

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