The shocking way North Korea would kidnap random citizens off the street

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The shocking way North Korea would kidnap random citizens off the street

On a pleasant evening in July 1978, Kaoru Hasuike took a stroll with his bride-to-be, Yukiko Okudo. A new moon hung in the inky Japanese sky and fireworks exploded overhead as the young couple wandered to the quiet end of a beach 140 miles outside of Tokyo.

A group of four men approached. One of them held out an unlit cigarette and requested a light.

Hasuike dipped a hand into his pocket. During that brief moment, he was rushed by the men. They blindfolded him, gagged him and tied him up. The assailants shoved Hasuike into a canvas bag. Okudo received similarly rough treatment. They were both forced to swallow nerve-calming sedatives, antibiotics that would protect any new bruises from infection, and seasickness-prevention medicine.

The couple was placed on a fishing boat near the shore â€" or, at least, the vessel looked like a modest trawler. It actually had th e supercharged guts of a military cruiser. It cut through international waters mightily.

Upon waking, Hasuike and Okudo found themselves in another country, 560 miles away: North Korea. The pair’s attackers were well-trained commandos from the regime of Supreme Leader Kim Il Sung, grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

Kim Il Sung in 1973

From around 1977 until 1983, the number off abductees taken by North Korea reached as high as the low hundreds, according to Robert Boynton, regarded as one of America’s top experts on North Korea’s kidnapping campaign and author of “The Invitation-Only Zone,” which chronicles the era.

The kidnapping of random citizens sounds so audacious that it is easy to write it all off as a militant eccentricity of the 1970s â€" like airplane hijackings and Cold War spy games.

But North Korea has had a longtime strategy of using abductees to gain influence.

“Normal states have ambassa dors, envoys, international discussions. In North Korea, they kidnap [or imprison] people and keep them as bargaining chips,” said Boynton.

The thinking in North Korea, he said, is that “we will use them as leverage when we need them.”

North Korea also had something else in mind beyond mere negotiating power.

“The North Korean intelligence agencies decided to use Japanese citizens in spy-training camps,” said Danny Russell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. “They were pressed into service as language teachers, translators and to help the North Korean agents to better disguise themselves as only a current citizen of Japan could.”

At the time, Kim Jong Il was being groomed to take over the country, which he would inherit command of in 1980. He wanted “the best of everything,” Boynton said. That extended not just to lavish dinner parties but also to his spies, who would “have the best, most up-to-date Japanese linguistic and cultural training.”

Split apart and isolated in North Korea, Hasuike and Okudo were each fed an identical lie: The other had been left behind in Japan.

The couple was remanded, separately, to quarters in North Korea’s mysterious Invitation-Only Zones. Scattered around the Hermit Kingdom, the sites functioned as gated housing developments crossed with white-collar prisons.

“Inhabitants were kept in with barbed wire and had minders looking after them. The idea was to prevent them from mixing with ordinary North Koreans,” Boynton said.

There, they would have lived amid ordinary citizens not just from Japan, but, potentially, also from Thailand, Romania and the Middle East who were also abducted or lured to the country.

While the true origins of the program are unknown, there are thoughts that it was initially hatched to create a superclass of undercover operatives.

“The idea was to indoctrinate abductees with North Korean ideology and turn them into spies,” said novelist D.B. John, whose new book, “Star of the North,” opens with a North Korean abduction. “But that didn’t work. Who the hell would be duped by that? So they were used to train North Korean spies.”

After 18 months or so, the Japanese lovers were reunited by their captors. They married in an austere ceremony and received a small, cinderblock home to live in, located in an Invitation-Only Zone near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

There, the couple lived in relatively normal domesticity while translating Japanese publications into Korean. Food deliveries came three times per week and there was a garden to tend; Hasuike carved a mahjong set out of wood and taught his wife to play. They would have two children, who were sent off to a North Korean boarding school and never told that their parents were actually Japanese.

“You woke up, ate breakfast, exercised, studied, had lunch, did your job ,” Boynton said. “You learned the history of North Korea through the lens of North Korea. The historical sensibility is that it is always 1933 or ’53 and that Japanese colonialism is still alive.”

The couple’s neighbors, according to Boynton, could have, at various times, been a hodgepodge of fellow kidnap victims, spies and translators â€" although there was not a lot of discussion about who was who and how they wound up in such unique circumstances.

“North Korea is not a place where you ask a lot of questions,” said Boynton. “There was always the sense that you could be put into a worse place than where you were.”

Had they been comfortable enough to chit-chat among themselves, there is no doubt interesting stories would have surfaced.

Among the kidnapped was a 13-year-old girl named Megumi Yokota, who was grabbed off of a street near her home in Niigata, a two-hour bullet-train ride from Tokyo. A Thai abductee had been pulled out of Ma cau.

Megumi Yokota

Romanian artist Doina Bumbea was lured to North Korea with the promise of an art show in Tokyo. She wound up marrying an American, James Dresnok, who had defected to the North in 1962 in order to escape a court-martial.

They had two children, now grown men, with Western features. The brothers, Ted and James, speak flawless Korean and appear to be boosters for the regime. James, dressed in a North Korean military uniform, can be seen in a YouTube clip where he flatly states, “The American imperialists caused the division of the Korean Peninsula.”

But the brothers’ usefulness may go beyond propaganda. “What if they were trained as the perfect Korean agents?” asked Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. “You are talking about a version of ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ â€" an overseas operator who is Western outside and North Korean inside.”

Back home, especially in Japan, where most of the 1970s victims hailed from, the disappearances set off massive searches, endless theorizing and boundless heartache â€" especially when dead bodies and ransom notes failed to materialize. Notions of the missing being kidnapped, maybe by the hated North Koreans, took on the proportions of an urban myth.

The disappearances might have gone unsolved if not for the tragic blowing up of Korean Air Flight 858, en route from Baghdad to Seoul in November 1987. Soon afterward, the bomb’s North Korean planters were spotted in an airport in Bahrain with fake passports.

A man and woman, maneuvering as father and daughter, were taken into a back room for questioning. Before giving any answers, the man asked if he could have a smoke. He put cigarette to mouth and sucked in an ampule of cyanide; he collapsed and died. The woman was about to do the same, but a guard realized what was happening and knocked the cigarette out of her ha nd. North Korea mandates that arrested operatives do the honorable thing and commit suicide. Otherwise their families suffer consequences.

The woman, whose real name was Kim Hyon Hui, spilled everything to South Korean authorities. She confessed that her language tutor was a bar hostess nabbed in Tokyo. As Boynton wrote in his book, “For the first time, the Japanese had direct evidence of the abductions.”

Nevertheless, 15 years passed before a series of brittle negotiations between Japan and North Korea concluded with the release of five captives, including Hasuike and Okudo, in October 2002. North Korea admitted to taking 13 Japanese citizens and claimed that eight had died. The deceased supposedly included Megumi Yokota. The North Koreans claimed that she had committed suicide.

Yukiko Okudo and Kaoru Hasuike arrive at Tokyo Station before departing to the northern city of Kashiwazaki Oct. 17, 2002 in Tokyo, Japan.

S ome Japanese accept very little of this as the truth and feel certain that fellow citizens remain in captivity.

“The problem is North Korea always lies,” said Yoichi Shimada, vice chairman of the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea. “They never gave details about the abductions.”

While the North Koreans claim that 13 Japanese were taken, Shimada thinks the number is closer to 100.

Scarlatoiu is similarly doubtful that all of the abductees have been released. “The death certificates were forged,” he said. “They all came from the same hospital. Some [of the deceased] supposedly died in car crashes.”

Despite disappointing results when the North last came at least partially clean â€" “The hope was for Japanese aid and investment, but Japan took what was offered and cut [the North] off,” said Scarlatoiu â€" some remain hopeful now that President Trump and Kim Jung Un have met.

“It may be the las t best chance to resolve the abduction issue,” said Shimada. “We hope Donald Trump told Kim to consider releasing whoever remains.”

Source: Google News North Korea | Netizen 24 North Korea

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