THEY ARE the forgotten victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the ones who endured the atomic nightmares and have struggled for nearly six decades in one of the world's most isolated and impoverished countries.
Survivors of the atom bomb living in North Korea share yet one more unhappy distinction: They are the only victims of the US nuclear attacks on Japan that receive no assistance from the Japanese government.
And 59 years on, as the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki gather this weekend to commemorate the day a new kind of death rained from their skies, killing more than 160,000 people and leaving countless thousands sick and dying, the plight of the forgotten North Korean victims remains unresolved.
But there are signs that the issue is at least beginning to receive official attention. The Japanese Health minister, Chikara Sakaguchi, said last week: "There is one remaining issue involving overseas atomic bombing survivors, and that is North Korea."
Little is known about the bomb survivors in North Korea, many of whom were repatriated in the 1950s. The Japanese government estimates there are about 930 of them, but support groups say the real number is twice that, at 1,953.
Even less is known about their health or their access to treatment. Bomb survivors - numbering a total of 285,600, including 5,000 living abroad - can develop myriad radiation-related maladies, including cancer and liver troubles.
The North Korean survivors are largely victims of politics. Tokyo has long resisted providing full assistance to survivors not residing in Japan, but a 2002 court ruling forced the government to funnel more relief to victims living abroad.
Japan provides monthly allowances of up to 140,000 yen (pounds 690) and free medical checkups to survivors living in Japan. Foreign- based survivors, mostly in South Korea, are getting a smaller package.
Since 2002, the monthly allowances have been available to all survivors as long as they had special certificates available only in Japan. …