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She Was Only 13 When North Korean Agents Took Her

Newser — John Johnson

The BBC recounts a harrowing chapter in relations between North Korea and Japan, a stretch from 1977 through the early 1980s when North Korean agents abducted Japanese citizens to help train their spies.

North Korea has since admitted to this and apologized, though critics say the North has not acknowledged the full scope of its strategy. By the Japanese government's official count, 17 citizens were taken.

But analysts think the true figure might be more than 100, according to the story by Rebecca Seales and Hideharu Tamura. Their account focuses in particular on perhaps the most famous of these abductees—Megumi Yokota, who was snatched from a beach in 1977 at the age of 13 while walking home from badminton practice.

And as the story explains, she was never supposed to have been taken.

Two North Korean spies were on the beach that evening awaiting a pickup by boat when they were spotted by Megumi, who was tall for her age.

Fearing their cover had been blown, and not realizing she was so young, the agents captured her, then locked her in the boat's hull for the return trip to the North.

Once there, she was forced to learn Korean and to teach agents about the Japanese language and customs. The story tracks the efforts of Megumi's family to learn her fate, because they do not believe the North's explanation that she committed suicide in the 1990s.

For one thing, ashes sent by the North did not match the DNA of Megumi's saved umbilical cord. Her father died in 2020, but the rest of Megumi's family still holds out hope of a reunion someday.

(Read the full story, which tells of other families in the same predicament.)

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