Members of nongovernmental organizations trying to help North Koreans who have fled their impoverished country find safe haven lashed out over Pyongyang's claim that they were kidnapping its people. During bilateral talks in Beijing that ended Wednesday, North Korea demanded that Japan hand over seven NGO members it reckoned were "abducting" its escapees.
Those sought include Lee Young Hwa, leader of Rescue the North Korean People! Urgent Action Network (RENK), and Hiroshi Kato, a senior member of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees.
"What we are doing is far from abducting," Kato told The Japan Times on Thursday. "I am displeased to be referred to as a perpetrator of such an act."
Kato stressed that his group helps North Koreans who flee to China to escape starvation in the reclusive state. The group provides food and shelter to the refugees, cares for the children they bring with them and even provides food to North Korea, he said.
"North Koreans flee their country because the North Korean government cannot feed them enough food," Kato said. "The North Korean side is just trying (to use the NGO issue) to get the upper hand in negotiations with Japan."
[Excerpted from an article by Kanako Takahara, The Japan Times]