The mother of Megumi Yokota, who has become a symbol of the long-unresolved issue of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang, expressed hope Monday for improved respect for human rights in North Korea.
"I want (North Korea) to know the trouble people, who are related by blood, have to go through to meet each other, and how wonderful it is to be free," Sakie Yokota said at a press conference after recently meeting her abducted daughter's child.
Sakie, 78, and her husband Shigeru, 81, have long been at the forefront of efforts to get North Korea to allow all abductees to return home, including their daughter Megumi, who was grabbed in 1977 at age 13.
The Yokotas met their granddaughter earlier this month for the first time, from March 10-14 in Mongolia, during a visit arranged as the issue of human rights in North Korea was being taken up at the United Nations.
Last week, Japan and the European Union submitted a resolution urging the U.N. Security Council to send the North Korean human rights issue to an "international criminal justice mechanism."
That was prompted by a report issued last month by a U.N. commission investigating human rights violations that said top North Korea government officials could be held accountable for crimes against humanity, including abductions of foreign nationals.
During a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, Sakie Yokota said she told her 26-year-old granddaughter Kim Eun Gyong that she worried about how their daughter, granddaughter and other abduction victims lived in North Korea.
"She told us that they have everything they need in North Korea," Sakie said about their secret, five-day meeting, adding, "We are very happy to see how she looked healthy and cheerful."
But Sakie said that while she was happy to see their granddaughter, her husband and their baby born last May, the "underlying issue of abduction" remains to be addressed.
With Japan and North Korea set to hold government-to-government talks in Beijing next Sunday and Monday for the first time since November 2012, Sakie's husband Shigeru said he hoped the talks prove to be "an opportunity" to move forward on the abduction issue.
"North Korea has no choice but to change," Shigeru said. "There is a need to put pressure (on Pyongyang) and balance it by showing the benefits North Korea will get if it returns all the abduction victims."
In 2002, Pyongyang admitted to having abducted or lured Japanese to North Korea, including the Yokotas' daughter Megumi, who it says committed suicide in 1994 after giving birth to Kim Eun Gyong.
In 2004, North Korea handed over to Japan what it claimed were the cremated remains of Megumi, but DNA tests conducted in Japan proved the claim to be false.
Kim Eun Gyong, also known as Hye Gyong, was born to Megumi and Kim Young Nam, a South Korean man abducted to North Korea.
Shigeru said he and his wife did not go to North Korea to meet their granddaughter when they first learned of her existence in 2002 for fear a visit would be used politically by the North. Kim Eun Gyong was 15 at the time.
But the couple recently decided that given their advanced age, they could wait no longer to meet their granddaughter.
The couple stressed their meeting with Kim Eun Gyong was "not done in a political context," and said they did not press for information about Megumi because they felt their granddaughter was not in a position to talk about the matter.
Sakie said she and her husband did not touch on "sensitive" issues such as the whereabouts of Megumi "so that when she (their granddaughter) went back (to North Korea), she would not encounter any difficulty."