Commuters walk past photos of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Koreans in 1977, at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, May 9, 2018.

Commuters walk past photos of Megumi Yokota, who was abducted by North Koreans in 1977, at Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, May 9, 2018. (Stars and Stripes)

TOKYO — The U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues pledged to help resolve the Japanese abduction issue during a visit Tuesday to the beach where a 13-year-old girl went missing 47 years ago.

Megumi Yokota is believed to have been taken by the North while walking home from her junior high school in Niigata, a port city on the Sea of Japan, Nov. 11, 1977. She was 13 at the time.

Ambassador Julie Turner, who took on the role in October, took the same route from the school to the beach where Yokota vanished, according to a local official who specializes in the abduction issue. Some government officials speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

Turner then traveled to the Niigata prefectural office to meet with Vice Gov. Koichi Kasatori. He asked the envoy’s help in resolving the issue, the official said, because “abductees and their families are getting older and there is no time to waste.”

“I reaffirmed my commitment to prioritize this issue,” Turner told reporters, according to media footage from the visit.

Turner, who has three daughters, described walking the beach and feeling sorrow for Yokota’s mother. She said the United States will seek international support on the issue, the prefectural official said.

In 2002, North Korea admitted to abducting Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ‘80s, and apologized during a summit with Tokyo, according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

Five abductees were returned to Japan that October; however, another dozen remain unaccounted for.

Japan continues to investigate more than 800 people who may have been abducted, according to the Cabinet Office.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is seeking a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to bring other abductees home as quickly as possible. However, Pyongyang says all living abductees have been returned.

It is believed North Korea carried out the abductions to teach their spies the Japanese language and to use their identities to enter South Korea, according to the National Police Agency website.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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