Koizumi criticised as hostages' children return

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The Independent Online

Five children of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea began a new life in their parents' homeland yesterday after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi won their release during a summit with the North's leader, Kim Jong Il .

But Mr Koizumi faced a torrent of criticism that he had rewarded North Korea with more than $10m (£6m) in food and humanitarian aid without making concrete headway on disputes over the reclusive regime's nuclear weapons programme, or suspected abductions of dozens of other Japanese.

Two Japanese couples, who returned to Japan in October 2002 after being abducted decades earlier by North Korean agents, spent a quiet night in a Tokyo hotel with their children. They avoided the media spotlight and made preparations to return to their homes in central and north-western Japan. But the emotional reunions brought little applause for Mr Koizumi.

"It is extremely questionable whether Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's latest visit to North Korea made any progress," the Yomiuri Shimbun, a daily newspaper, said in an editorial. "The latest meeting made no headway in resolving the abduction, nuclear, missile or any other issues related to north-east Asia's peace and security." Mr Koizumi said he had gone to Pyongyang because both countries would benefit from a change from "hostile relations to friendly relations". He said his pledge of 250,000 tons of food aid and $10m worth of medical supplies was made at the request of international organisations, and not in exchange for the family members' release. Many Japanese believe that he was too generous.

Mr Koizumi met a former abductee Hitomi Soga on Saturday to tell her that her husband, Charles Jenkins, a former US soldier accused of desertion in 1965, had refused to return to Japan, fearing he would be extradited to the US. Their two daughters had also stayed behind. The family accepted Mr Koizumi's plan that they try to meet in a third country, such as China.(AP)