(First of Two Parts)
The 29th of November was the 30th anniversary of the terrorist attack that destroyed Korean Air flight 858 carrying 115 passengers and crew. Kim Hyon-hui, 55, a former North Korean operative and one of the two responsible for the crime, gave an interview to the Sankei Shimbun in Korea.
Kim insists that the abduction victim Megumi Yokota is “alive.” She revealed that the primary reason North Korea is unwilling to return Megumi to Japan is because she got to know secrets of the Kim family while serving as a Japanese language instructor to Kim Jung-il.
Sometime around June 1984, Kim met Megumi, who was involved in the language instruction of a fellow operative. Before the Korean Air terrorist incident she saw a photograph of Megumi together with Yukiko Hasuike, an abductee who later returned to Japan. At that time Megumi was pregnant. Kim said that she later heard that Megumi had given birth to a daughter fathered by her husband who was an abductee from South Korea.
As for the North Korean insistence that Megumi is dead, Kim said that because Megumi had been involved in the training of agents, “she knows things that would be a problem if they were disclosed.” Above and beyond that, “the number one reason is that she was involved with the Kim family.” Kim said that she heard that after Megumi got divorced she was a Japanese language tutor for the Kim family, although, she added, “I don’t know the details.”
Given that Kim Jong-un, chairman of the Worker’s Party and supreme leader of North Korea, learned Japanese at an early age, there is the possibility that Megumi taught Kim family children.
As to why someone only 13 years old would be abducted, former agent Kim explained that the original idea was to turn foreign nationals into “Kim Il-sung Revolutionary Fighters” and use them in secret operations. After this failed in Europe, however, the purpose of abduction shifted to the training of operatives.
In the view of Kim, North Korea “in economic terms, cannot carry on for long. Within five years we will see changes.” This is because the United States has once again designated North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism, and China, which had been providing backing for the North Korean regime, is now also participating in UN sanctions.
In her view, Chairman Kim’s ultimate goal with his missile and nuclear weapons development is “to negotiate a peace treaty with the US that leads to the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea, followed by the unification of Korea under a socialist system.”
Kim revealed she had learned from recent refugees who had fled North Korea that, immediately after the attack on the Korean Air flight, her parents had been expelled from Pyongyang and had died.
The son of former agent, Kim is now a high school student and her daughter a middle school student. Both have been studying Japanese as a second language and are said to be very taken by things Japanese. Her son is obsessed with the animated film Your Name and uses Japanese greetings, such as tadaima (I’m back) and gochisosama (Thank you for the delicious meal).
Message to ‘the Mothers of Japan’
“I think that you must have had numerous painful and hard-to-bear experiences as part of this unhappy fate. I am praying for your good health and the strength to carry on.”
Kim Hyon-hui burst into tears during the interview when Norio Sakurai, the correspondent of the Sankei Shimbun Seoul Bureau, read out a message that he got from Sakie Yokota, 81, mother of Megumi, who had been abducted 40 years earlier by North Korea.
“It is really a message from a mother. I cannot help crying.” Her tears would not stop and the words would not come out.
It was in July of 2010 in Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture—thanks to cooperation between Japan and South Korea—that Kim met with Mr. and Mrs. Yokota and other relatives of abductees. Kim is almost the same age as Megumi, and at their first meeting Sakie Yokota said, “I felt like I was seeing Megumi.”
Sakie also said to Kim, “You have suffered unimaginable life. But you’re now alive with a good health. Megumi is surely having a healthy life in North Korea and the day when she returns will come.”
These are the words of a mother filled with confidence. Kim thought of her own mother who remained in North Korea. Sakie gave Kim a gentle hug. “It was like my own mother.”
Kim’s meeting with Megumi came by chance. Sometime around June 1984, a fellow operative Kim Su-ki, with whom she was on good terms, said she was meeting Oh Ki, and asked if she would like to come along.
Oh Ki was Megumi, who was involved in the Japanese language education of operative Kim Su-ki. “A meeting without permission was a violation of the rules, but it was close, and I went to the ‘invitation only area’ where Megumi lived.”
When asked, “What have you been doing?” Megumi replied, “I have been reading books.” She was a quiet woman, who gave off a somewhat distant and detached feeling. Operative Kim Su-ki said, “Let’s sing something, anything.” Megumi sang “Kimigayo,” the Japanese national anthem.
“At the time, I didn’t think anything of it other than she sang it because it is easy to sing. But now I believe she probably sang it to show, ‘I’m thinking about Japan. I want to return.’ That is my feeling,” Kim recalled. It was a fateful meeting that lasted only 10 or 15 minutes.
Downing A Korean Air
Three years later, on the 27th of October 1987, a major order came down to Kim: to block the Seoul Olympics and deal a great blow to the puppet regime in South Korea, she would have to down an airplane.
“At that time I thought it was a great honor that, of all the many operatives, the Central Committee of the Party had faith in me and had given me this great task,” Kim recalled.
“Just before going on the mission, I heard that Megumi had given birth to a daughter. As someone who had dedicated their life to covert operations, I was just a bit envious and thought, ‘How nice.,’”
(To be continued)
Norio Sakurai is a correspondent of the Sankei Shimbun Seoul bureau.