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Japanese man detained in N. Korea released: diplomatic source

A Japanese man detained in North Korea has been released and is now in China, a Japanese diplomatic source said Monday.

North Korea said earlier it had decided to deport Tomoyuki Sugimoto via China «on the principle of humanitarianism.»

The man, who visited North Korea as a tourist, has been «kept under control by a relevant institution to be inquired into his crime» against the country’s law, but it «decided to leniently condone him,» the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in English on Sunday.

A Japanese government source said earlier that a man detained in North Korea earlier this month was thought to be a videographer in his 30s from Shiga Prefecture in central Japan.

The man may have been suspected of shooting video footage of a military facility when he visited the western port city of Nampo with a tour group, the source said.

The man was visiting North Korea on a tour arranged by a China-based travel agency, the source said, adding there is unconfirmed information about him having visited the country in the past.


(File photo of foreign tourists in Pyongyang in July 2018)

«We will have to complete several procedures until his return to Japan. We have to support him as the government,» said a source in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.

There have been concerns that the detention of the Japanese tourist could adversely affect Abe’s effort to arrange a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, one that he hopes will lead to progress on the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

Foreign affairs experts say, however, that the tourist’s release, should it be realized, is unlikely to pave the way for a summit as Pyongyang has stepped up criticism of Tokyo.

In recent months, North Korean official media have said the issue has been already «resolved,» while calling on Tokyo to atone for its past military occupation and colonial rule of Korea.

Abe has said tackling the abduction issue is his «life’s work.»

The Japanese government has requested all its citizens to refrain from travelling to North Korea, as part of sanctions against Pyongyang, which has developed nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in defiance of international warnings.

In 1999, a Japanese newspaper reporter was taken into custody in North Korea on spy charges and detained for about two years.

A Japanese trader was detained in 2003 on suspicion of smuggling drugs. It took around five years and three months until he was allowed to leave North Korea.

All — Kyodo News+

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