Abductee's brother collects signatures for early return of Japanese from N.Korea

The brother of a Japanese woman abducted by North Korea collected signatures on Sunday for the early return of Japanese nationals -- 21 years after Pyongyang first admitted to the abductions.

A summit in the North Korean capital Pyongyang on September 17, 2002, led to the return of five Japanese. They are among the 17 citizens recognized by the Japanese government as having been abducted by North Korea. The whereabouts of the remaining 12 are still uncertain.

Many others, although not officially recognized, are suspected of having been taken to North Korea.

Over the past 21 years, eight parents of the officially recognized abductees have died, and only two are alive. The mother of abductee Yokota Megumi is 87. The father of Arimoto Keiko is 95.

On Sunday, Masumoto Teruaki, the younger brother of Masumoto Rumiko, collected signatures in Tokyo to urge the government to bring the abductees home as soon as possible. His sister and Ichikawa Shuichi were abducted by North Korean agents from a beach in Japan's southwestern prefecture of Kagoshima 45 years ago.

Masumoto said the abduction issue will never be resolved until the whereabouts of all the abductees are confirmed and all those who are alive return to Japan.

He recalled his sister as having been affectionate to him in their childhood, adding that she is nearly 70 now. He appealed for an early settlement of the issue and for the government to take action.

The families' group said in its action plan this year that it will not oppose Japan extending humanitarian aid to North Korea if the country allows all the abductees to return while the remaining parents are alive.

This was the group's first reference to possible aid to the North, even with conditions attached, since it was formed 26 years ago.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has indicated that he hopes to launch high-level talks with North Korea under his direct supervision, in order to realize a bilateral summit.