Friday, March 30, 2007

Analysis: Romania adds to N. Korea haze

UPI Senior Correspondent

WASHINGTON, March 29 (UPI) -- Revelation that a Romanian was among those who were kidnapped by the North Korean government in the 1970s and 1980s adds to the already bizarre saga of Pyongyang's efforts in years past to train its spies. Yet even as the news has shocked those in Romania as well as people in the East Asia region, the latest addition to the list of abductees is unlikely to have any impact on ongoing international efforts to denuclearize North Korea, even though Japan may wish otherwise.

Last week the Romanian daily newspaper Evenimentul Zilei reported that the then-27-year-old Doina Bumbea was abducted by North Korean agents from Rome in 1978 and was forced by Pyongyang to train agents in foreign languages. Meanwhile, this week Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun interviewed Bumbea's brother Gabriel in Romania, who confirmed that photos of her from North Korea were indeed his older sister, who was an artist married to an Italian.

Bumbea is certainly not alone in being lured away by North Korean agents on false pretenses, only to find herself being forced to work for Kim Il-Sung's regime. In Bumbea's case, she reportedly was lured by being told that she would be able to exhibit her artwork in Japan.

The latest report adds another layer to the drama of North Korea's actions on the international stage over the past decades, and some Japanese analysts argue that it could give greater leverage to the Japanese government as it seeks to gain more information on the 17 people who were abducted by Pyongyang in years past before it entertains the possibility of providing aid to the country. South Korea and China too have accused Pyongyang of abducting its citizens too, but Japan has been at the forefront in clamoring for more information on those who went missing. For its part, North Korea has insisted that it only kidnapped 13 Japanese nationals, of whom five were returned to Japan in 2002.

Information on the Romanian's life in Pyongyang first came to light in 2005, when former U.S. Army soldier Robert Jenkins published his memoir of life in North Korea, where he had been since 1965 after defecting from the military while stationed in South Korea. Jenkins later married a Japanese national, Hitomi Soga, who had been abducted along with her mother as she was taking a walk near the coast of her home town in northern Japan. Soga was one of the five Japanese released from the country five years ago, and her husband --a U.S. citizen -- was allowed to leave with her. Jenkins recalled in his book that a Romanian woman had been one of the few foreigners that he and his wife had interacted with, and Jenkins wrote that she died of cancer in 1997. Bumbea's family in Romania had actually conducted a funeral for her in 1984, after not hearing from her for six years.

There are already moves in Japan to get Romania involved in putting pressure on Pyongyang to provide more information about its abduction program as a result of Bumbea's disappearance.

Asahi Shimbun reported that the head of the Japanese group representing those who were abducted will be going to Romania in the near future to meet with Bumbea's family, which would increase the group's lobbying power beyond the Japanese borders. The newspaper also reported that the Romania Foreign Ministry had contacted its counterpart in Pyongyang to obtain more information on the woman's kidnapping but has not yet received any reply.

Bumbea's abduction "highlights the extent of North Korea's wrongdoing," a Japanese government official said, adding that it could bring Japan and Romania closer together in trying to get Pyongyang to open up about its abduction program, which the government has said it has abandoned.

It is doubtful, however, that the latest development would have any impact on the ongoing six-party talks between China, South Korea, Russia and the United States as well as Japan and North Korea. In February, Japan declined to join the four other countries as they agreed to provide 50,000 tons in heavy fuel oil to the impoverished country in return for it shutting down its nuclear reactor in Yongbyon by April 13. They have agreed too to provide an additional 950,000 tons of oil once the plant is permanently disabled and details of its other nuclear activities are provided.

Japan, however, has declared it will not be part of the aid effort until North Korea provides further information on the abductees.

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