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Woman seeking North Korean “asylum” said possible member of Japan cult

Kyodo, Japan
Oct. 29, 2003 • Wednesday October 29, 2003

The AUM Shinrikyo cult, which now calls itself Aleph, said Wednesday [29 October] that a Japanese woman said to have entered North Korea seeking “asylum” may be one of its former members. Officials of the cult said there is a former member whose name and date of birth are identical to that of the woman, but they have yet to confirm if the woman and the former member are the same person.

North Korea has told Japan that a Japanese woman entered the North seeking asylum, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, confirming a report by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The KCNA report, monitored in Tokyo, identified the woman as Kazumi Kitagawa. Neither the ministry nor the report gave further details, but some reports say the woman is in her 20s.

AUM Shinrikyo said the former member joined it at its Osaka centre in 1995 but officially withdrew from the group in October 2001. The group said she was not a live-in follower but a lay follower. “We have not contacted her since her withdrawal and have nothing to do with her attempt for asylum,” said an official of the cult.

The Foreign Ministry declined to identify the woman, but said a woman believed to be the same person went to the Japanese Consulate General in Shenyang, northeastern China, in April and expressed a desire to seek “asylum” in North Korea. At that time, Japanese officials at the consulate urged the woman to give up the attempt. A Foreign Ministry official said the woman was apparently motivated by personal rather than political reasons to go to North Korea. Ministry officials said Pyongyang claimed the woman had “illegally entered” North Korea “while making a sightseeing tour of a third country”.

The founder of AUM Shinrikyo, Shoko Asahara, 48, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is on trial for various crimes, including the fatal 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, that killed 12 people. AUM renamed itself Aleph in 2000.

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