Shigeo Iizuka, chairman of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea (AFVKN), pictured in 2011
North Korea, which a decade ago admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens during the Cold War, is still snatching foreigners, families of Japanese victims said in Geneva.
"Abductions are being carried out now. This is ongoing," Shigeo Iizuka, the chairman of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea, told AFP on Thursday at the opening of a two-day Geneva exhibit aimed at raising awareness in Europe about the kidnappings.
"Even as we speak there are such abductions occurring," agreed Nobuhiro Matsuki, the younger brother of Kaoru Matsumoto, who was abducted in Madrid in 1980.
Standing among pictures of abductees flanked by their stories, he insisted through a translator that the international community needs to pay more attention to the issue.
In 2002, North Korea admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to teach its spies about the Japanese language and culture.
The youngest, Megumi Yokota, was just 13 years old when she was snatched in 1977.
Five victims were allowed to return to Japan but Pyongyang said the remaining eight had died, including Yokota, Matsumoto and Iizuka's sister Yaeko Taguchi, who was abducted in 1978.
The Japanese government, which hosted the Geneva exhibit as a side event to a session of the UN's Committee of the Enforced Disappearance, meanwhile maintains Pyongyang has not told the whole truth.
Tokyo believes there is a good chance the remaining kidnap victims acknowledged by North Korea are still alive, and insists North Korea abducted at least five more Japanese citizens than it has owned up to.
"North Korea claims this is closed, that it is resolved, but we don't accept that," Arata Nakae, a government representative on the issue told AFP.
According to another government official, who asked not to be named, Pyongyang has failed to provide credible proof of the eight alleged deaths.
"The logical conclusion is .. to believe that all of them are alive," he said, pointing out that North Korea had sent Japan the supposed remains of Yokota, who allegedly died in 1994, but that DNA testing showed they were not hers.
Matsuki also told AFP that DNA tests on the supposed remains of his brother had shown they were a mishmash from several people, with some female and some animal remains thrown into the mix.
"I have a strong belief that we will be able to have him come back" alive, he said.
Iizuka too voiced optimism that the remaining abductees could be brought home alive, stressing that the shift in North Korean leadership could make it easier to resolve the issue.
"We see better chances with the current situation," with Kim Jong-Un in power, he said.
But although the new leader appears more interested in smoothing relations with Japan, he has yet to order a halt to the abduction policies of his father Kim Jong-il, Iizuka claimed, insisting they are still in force.
Many meanwhile believe the official figure of Japanese abductees probably only scratches the surface of the real number, since the kidnappings are so difficult to prove, with the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN) putting the actual number closer to 100.
That group also maintains that in addition to the Japanese abductees and the tens of thousands of people taken from South Korea during and after the Korean war, North Korea had kidnapped nationals from at least 11 other countries, including France, Italy and the United States.