Japan's army of hijackers offers trip of a lifetime

TOKYO - In one of the most bizarre career changes in history, a team of Japanese terrorists who hijacked a plane to North Korea 24 years ago, are running Japanese package tours to the Communist nation, writes Terry McCarthy.

The tour agency in Japan that handles ticketing, says travellers should not be afraid of the hijackers boarding the plane because they would all be arrested if they left North Korea.

As part of their terror campaign against the Japanese government, nine members of the ultra-left wing Red Army Faction hijacked a JAL jet with 129 passengers on board in March 1970. They forced the pilot to fly to Pyongyang, after releasing passengers in Seoul, and have since lived in North Korea.

With the potential for disrupting international air traffic curtailed by their residence in Pyongyang, which has only a handful of weekly flights to Moscow and Peking, the hijackers turned their minds from terrorism to tourism.

Working through Chosun Travel Club, an agency in the Japanese city of Osaka, the Red Army members are offering a six-day tour of sunny North Korea for pounds 1,500. The tour, called 'Autumn in Pyongyang - meeting the true face of North Korea', includes sightseeing in Pyongyang and the De-militarised Zone separating North and South Korea.

For tourists travelling to Pyongyang the highlight of the trip is a lecture on the history of North Korea and the anti-Japanese movement during the war, delivered by one of the hijackers.