Abductions that led to decades of pain

Two decades have passed since the North Korean government admitted it ran an abduction program that targeted Japanese people. The passing of time does not diminish the pain for those affected, and the Japanese government continues to regard the issue as a key foreign policy objective.

Of the 17 people officially recognized as being taken by the North, only five have made it home. As family members of the remaining 12 grow old and some pass away, the pressure grows on the Japanese government to resolve the matter.

Sudden disappearances

Starting in the 1970s, people started to vanish, often near the Sea of Japan coast.

Evidence and testimony from former spies aroused suspicion that North Korea was responsible, but its government denied it.

Japanese citizens disappeared near the Sea of Japan coast during the 1970s and '80s

North Korea belatedly acknowledges involvement

At a Japan-North Korea summit in September 2002, North Korea finally conceded it was behind the abductions, and issued a formal apology.

Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and North Korea's leader Kim JongIl held a summit in Pyongyang on September 17, 2002

The following month, Pyongyang returned five abductees to Japan. None have followed since.

October 15, 2002: Five abductees return to Japan after 24 years

Spycraft a motivator

One reason for the abductions was to use the victims to train North Korean spies, so that they could disguise themselves as Japanese.

Time passes but the anguish continues

Two decades have passed since the 2002 Japan-North Korea summit led to closure for some families -- and hope for many others. That sense of hope lingers as Japanese officials continue to work on the families' behalf to find answers.

But for some, it is already too late. Many family members have died without seeing their loved ones again, or finding out what happened to them.

Families still hope for a reunion