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North Korean defector in Tokyo retains hope for US-N. Korea summit

A message that the North Korean escapee wrote on the other side of a stamp attached to a letter to his elderly brother is seen in this recent photo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A North Korean defector living in Tokyo said he will never give up hope for U.S.-North Korea summit talks, which he believes will not only lead to peace but make North Korean people better off, despite U.S. President Donald Trump's recent cancellation of the meeting.

"Everybody (in North Korea) wants food rather than nuclear weapons, though they can't say that," said the man in his 70s, who goes by the alias of Kimikatsu Kinoshita.

Kinoshita is a second-generation North Korean resident who was born in the Hokuriku region along the Sea of Japan coast around the middle of Japan's main island, Honshu. He went to North Korea in 1960 with his family under a program to allow North Korean residents in Japan to come and live in the country. At the time, North Korea was dubbed a "paradise on earth."

He left Niigata on a ship but after arriving in North Korea, he realized that he had been deceived. Children who came to the port to welcome them were covered with grime and gave off an offensive odor.

Kinoshita's elder brother, who chose to remain in Japan, had told him before he moved to North Korea to write about the real situation in the North on the back of a stamp affixed to a letter. The man wrote, "Never come here."

Kinoshita did not understand Korean and was bullied at school as "half Japanese." He felt antipathy to school education in which teachers bitterly criticized other countries, but he did not say anything about it.

The man subsequently worked at coal mines and factories as he struggled to make ends meet. He experienced a serious famine that is said to have left millions of people dead in the late 1990s. Some days he was unable to have even a single meal. When he saw a parent and child who had starved to death on a mountain, a chill ran down his spine. He thought, "I might be next."

He subsequently managed to cross a river situated along the national border between China and North Korea to escape.

"I gained real freedom, being able to say what I wanted to say," the man recalled.

However, he always thinks about those who are living in North Korea. A relative's home in a rural area was swept away by a flood in 2016. He feels that the income gap is widening in his home country.

Kinoshita was furious when the North Korean regime repeated nuclear tests and missile launches in spite of the hardship members of the public face. "If the country can afford to do these things, they should rather solve food problems," he thought.

The man has placed hope in U.S.-North Korea dialogue, though he thinks that North Korea will not easily abandon its nuclear program because the North Korean regime has relied on such weapons of mass destruction to maintain its power.

"If economic sanctions are eased, people will be somewhat better off. If the country is denuclearized, it will lead to peace in East Asia," the man said.

Despite the cancellation of the Trump-Kim summit, he has not given up hope. "North Korea has no choice but to hold dialogue with the United States. I think dialogue will certainly resume," he said.

(Japanese original by Asako Takeuchi, City News Department)

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