New report highlights North Korean abductions

Satellite image of North Korea's political camp
Image caption Amnesty International recently reported that political prisoner camps in the North were growing

A new report detailing North Korea's decades-long policy of abducting foreign nationals has been published by a US-based human rights group.

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea says more than 180,000 people from 14 countries have been taken.

The vast majority of these cases are not typical abductions.

They involve prisoners not returned after the 1950-53 Korean War and Japanese who settled in North Korea but were never allowed home.

Other reports highlight North Korea's foreign operations - including a Japanese college student and his girlfriend snatched from a beach in Japan by North Korean agents.

The figure includes more than 3,000 South Korean fishermen forcibly towed into North Korean waters and students in European cities - including London, it says - lured to the secretive state with the promise of jobs and then denied permission to leave.

In one such case at a London language school in 1983, a North Korean agent, Megumi Yao, was operating undercover, targeting Japanese students for abduction.

She promised them good jobs in North Korea, and introduced one of the students to her contacts in Denmark. A few weeks later, the student boarded a flight to Pyongyang and disappeared.

The figure of 180,000 is much larger than usually quoted because researchers have added together all the groups that may have been affected by North Korea's alleged practices.

Some abductions, they say, are apparently a bid to train its intelligence agents, but the report also cites more recent claims that North Korean agents are targeting those in China's border areas who are suspected of helping their people escape the closed state.

The allegations are almost impossible to verify without free access to North Korea.

In 2002, Pyongyang released a handful of Japanese nationals, in response to Japan's questions about its missing people.

But since then, it has not confirmed the presence of any more abductees inside the country.

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