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Japanese fishermen may have been abducted to North Korea decades ago while their boats were operating in the Sea of Japan, a South Korean activist who heads a group of family members whose relatives had been abducted to the North said Tuesday.
Citing a North Korean source, Choe Seong Ryong said North Korea, which was regularly seizing South Korean fishing boats back then, may have sought to use Japanese fishermen as operatives and exploit their familiarity with Japanese coastal areas.
He said he learned from the source that a number of Japanese abductees in North Korea were once fishermen.
From the end of the Korean War in 1953 through the 1980s, North Korea is believed to have abducted more than 3,000 South Koreans to the North after seizing their boats while they were at sea.
A 63-year-old former South Korean fisherman, abducted to the North in 1975 in the international waters between South Korea and Japan, said South Korean and Japanese fishing boats were catching fish competitively in the area.
The statement of the fisherman, who has since escaped from North Korea back to the South, raised the possibility Japanese fishing boats were among those raided by North Korea at that time.
Including the former fisherman's case, North Korean high-speed boats approached to the fishing boats and threatened fishermen at gunpoint to sail toward North Korean ports.
When South Korean fishermen disappeared with their fishing boats, they were regarded for a long time as having met with accidents at sea.
In some cases, North Koreans shot dead resisting fishermen, and there might some Japanese victims who were shot dead at sea.
According to the South Korean government, a total of 517 South Koreans are listed as abducted by the North.
North Korea is believed to have trained the South Korean abductees as operatives or as trainers for operatives.
In September 2002, North Korea admitted it abducted or lured 13 Japanese to the country in the 1970s and 1980s, and said eight of them had died. In October 2002, five Japanese abductees returned to Japan.
Unconvinced by North Korea's explanations about the circumstances of abductees said to have died, Japan has been calling for an investigation into the whereabouts of those missing, including Megumi Yokota, who was abducted at age 13 in 1977 as she was walking home from school in her seaside village in Niigata Prefecture.
Pyongyang says Yokota is among those who died in captivity.
Tokyo recognizes a total of 17 Japanese, including the five who were returned, as abduction victims. But the disappearances of numerous other Japanese are believed to be linked to possible abductions by North Korea.
The issue has become a major obstacle for the two countries in normalizing diplomatic ties.