BANGKOK: The murder of Kim Jong-nam at the KL International Airport 2 (KLIA2) three weeks ago, has rekindled a Japanese association's interest in a mysterious incident that happened 39 years ago.
On Aug 20, 1978, five young women comprising four Malaysians and a Singaporean mysteriously disappeared after they were asked by a man – said to be Japanese – to join a party on a boat off the republic's coast.
The four Malaysian women who vanished without a trace are Yeng Yoke Fun, 22; Yap Me Leng, 22; See Toh Tai Thim, 19 and Margaret Ong Guat Choo, 19 while the Singaporean was Diana Ng Kum Yim, 24.
Although both incidents occurred nearly four decades apart, they shared one similarity – North Korean agents are highly suspected to be behind the crimes, allegedly on orders from their supreme leader.
"We should investigate the case again (the 1978 incident), and we are willing to assist relatives of the four Malaysian women to find more information," the Association for the Rescue of North Korea Abductees (ARNKA) director Tomoharu Ebihara told Bernama recently.
Despite the scant information available on the four Malaysian women and a gap of 39 years since the day of the incident, he remains optimistic that someday he and his colleagues will unravel the mystery.
According to Ebihara, information on the possible existence of Malaysian abductees in North Korea was derived from testimonies of South Korean actress, Choi Eun-hee and former United States' soldier, Charles Robert Jenkins.
Eun-hee was abducted in Hong Kong in 1978 while Jenkins deserted his unit and crossed into North Korea in 1965 and lived in the Communist country until 2004 before travelling to Japan to link up with a woman.
"According to Jenkins, he saw a picture of Yoke Fun (one of the women who disappeared in Singapore) and remembered meeting a similar woman at an amusement park in Pyongyang between 1980 and 1981," said Ebihara.
Eun-hee, who lived in Pyongyang until 1986, told she heard from a woman that a Malaysian couple lived in a separate residence in Pyongyang during her stay in North Korea's capital, said the activist.
"That is the only information we have on the possible Malaysian abductees," he said, adding that information provided by Eun-hee and Jenkins were credible.
According to Ebihara, citizens from 12 countries – including Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Jordan, Lebanon, Romania and France – were allegedly kidnapped by North Korean agents.
He said non-governmental organisations in Japan believe about 300 Japanese were abducted by North Korean agents, despite the official tally given by the government puts it at 18 people.
Hundreds of South Koreans were also allegedly abducted by North Korean agents.
He said a sole Thai abductee, Anocha Panjoy, was abducted in July, 1978 while she was working in Macau, allegedly by the same "Japanese" man who was behind the kidnapping of the Malaysian and Singaporean women a month later.
The "Japanese" man is believed to be a North Korean agent.
According to Ebihara, although it was difficult to pinpoint a reason behind the abduction, it was strongly believed that the abductees were used as language or cultural teachers for future North Korean agents, among others.
"They (women abductees) are also kidnapped to become wives of foreign abducted men," he said, citing Jenkins who was married to Japanese abductee, Hitomi Soga.
Ebihara said that the Thai abductee, Panjoy, was also believed to be married with another foreign abductee according to information provided by Jenkins. – Bernama