Former North Korean agent Kim Hyon Hui met with the brother and son of Japanese abductee Yaeko Taguchi on Wednesday in the South Korean city of Busan, saying she believes Taguchi is still alive.
''I have no doubt your mother is still alive. I'm sure you will be able to meet her if you continue to make the effort,'' Kim told them in Japanese. Kim is believed to have learned from Taguchi.
The meeting between the 47-year-old Kim and Shigeo Iizuka, 70, and Koichiro Iizuka, 32, was organized by the Japanese and South Korean governments as both Taguchi's kin and Kim wanted to meet the other party.
''I am happy to have been able to live to this historic day. I thank Kim for clearly stating that she thought my sister is still alive,'' Shigeo told a press conference that followed the 90-minute-long closed-door meeting.
''My five-year-long wish has come true,'' said Koichiro, who had sent a letter addressed to Kim five years ago, requesting to meet her.
While citing that she never received the letter, Kim said in the press conference that she had been ''so excited these past several days that I could not sleep. Koichiro gets his looks from his mother and is handsome. How much better it would have been if Taguchi were here.''
Kim added that she had heard that Taguchi was married to someone ''in 1986, but I never heard to whom.''
The former North Korean operative also told reporters that she does not believe that Japanese abductee Megumi Yokota is dead, as the North Korean government has said. Yokota was taken to North Korea from Niigata in 1977 when she was 13 years old.
Kim said although Yokota had been admitted to a hospital due to her mental state, ''I was told that her condition was not that severe.''
At the outset of the meeting in the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center, Kim gave Koichiro a hug and told him that he looked ''just like (his) mother'' and apologized for being unable to meet sooner.
Meanwhile, Shigeo and Koichiro gave Kim souvenirs from Japan, including a CD album by Japanese singer Kenji Sawada, also known as ''Julie.'' This is Kim's first public appearance since she got married in December 1997.
''This meeting has opened up possibilities for Japan and South Korea to work together in settling the abduction issue,'' Shigeo told reporters.
The Japanese government had been requesting its South Korean counterpart to set up the meeting between Taguchi's kin and Kim.
The administration of former President Roh Moo Hyun had been reluctant to hold the meeting due to concerns that such actions could excite North Korea. However, the administration of President Lee Myung Bak has been positive in cooperating with Japan on the abduction issue.
Shigeo and Koichiro arrived in South Korea on Tuesday. Koichiro had expressed hope that the meeting with Kim would ''offer a ray of hope'' for other parties in Japan and South Korea in settling the abduction issue.
''By establishing a relationship of trust with Kim, we may be able to get more information about the abduction issue,'' Shigeo said prior to the meeting. He also heads a group representing the families of Japanese abductees.
Taguchi, who was kidnapped in June 1978 at the age of 22, is one of at least a dozen Japanese abducted by North Korea and who remain missing, according to the Japanese government.
North Korea has admitted to abducting her, but says she married abductee Tadaaki Hara in 1984 and died in a transportation accident in July 1986. Japan disputes the claim on the grounds that there has been information that Taguchi may have married a Korean abductee after 1986.
Koichiro, an engineer at an information technology company in Tokyo, said he has no memory of his mother because he was only 1 year old when she was abducted. Koichiro was raised by Shigeo and his wife.
Kim was convicted of the 1987 fatal bombing of a South Korean airliner and sentenced to death in South Korea but was later pardoned on the grounds that she was duped by the North's communist regime trying to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympics and that she repented her crime.
Kim has told investigators that she and a male North Korean agent, posing as a Japanese father and daughter, boarded Korean Air Flight 858 from Baghdad to Seoul on Nov 28, 1987. They planted a time bomb on the plane after getting off in Abu Dhabi, a refueling stop.
The next day, the Boeing 707 plane exploded over the Andaman Sea near Burma, now Myanmar, according to a South Korean investigation.
Kim and her accomplice were arrested two days later in Bahrain, where they were trying to get a flight to Rome. The pair attempted to kill themselves by taking cyanide concealed in cigarette filters. The man died, but Kim recovered and was extradited to Seoul.
Kim has said she was ordered to bomb the plane by Kim Jong Il, the country's current leader but then the heir of national founder Kim Il Sung. The younger Kim took power following his father's death in 1994.
North Korea has denied involvement in the bombing but the incident prompted the United States to include the country in its list of terrorism-sponsoring countries.
The terrorism black list had been a key thorn in ties between the two countries, until the U.S. delisted the North last year to help salvage an international deal on the North's nuclear disarmament.
Kim later married a South Korean intelligence officer who investigated her and has written several best-selling books. She had lived in seclusion for many years until recent months.© Wire reports