Japan delegation arrives in N. Korea over kidnapping probe

AFP , Monday 27 Oct 2014

Chief negotiator
North Korea's chief negotiator for the North Korea-Japan talks Song Il-Ho May 27, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

A Japanese delegation arrived in North Korea on Monday for talks centred on Pyongyang's investigation into the Cold War kidnappings of Japanese citizens, which has marred relations for years.

The four-day visit-- the first official Japanese delegation to the North in a decade -- comes after Tokyo eased sanctions against the secretive state in July when it pledged to revisit the abductions in the 1970s and 1980s by North Korean agents.

Junichi Ihara, who heads the foreign ministry's Asian and Oceania Affairs Bureau, is leading a group that will also include police and other experts.

"We plan to use this visit to Pyongyang to tell the person in charge that Japan regards the abduction issue as a priority," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, told a regular press briefing in Tokyo on Monday.

"We want them to explain the status of the investigation. At this meeting, we will call on them to carry out the probe swiftly and be sincere in their response to Japan," Suga added.

In a brief dispatch, North Korea's official KCNA confirmed that the Japanese delegation had arrived on Monday.

Japanese officials had expected a report on details of the probe around September, but North Korea recently said it would be unable to supply substantial information in that timeline.

On Monday, Japanese media speculated about whether Ihara would meet with So Tae-Ha, the little-known chairman of the North Korean committee in charge of leading the probe.

So is also counselor for security at the National Defense Commission, the top state organ headed by leader Kim Jong-Un, and vice minister of state security, Japan's Kyodo News said

Tokyo believes dozens of people were snatched to train the North's spies in Japanese language and customs.

In 2002, North Korea admitted that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens to train its spies.

Five of the abductees returned home, but Pyongyang said -- without producing credible evidence -- that the eight others had died.

That claim provoked uproar in Japan, where there are suspicions that the actual number of abductees could reach into the hundreds.

Tokyo and Pyongyang have no formal diplomatic ties, partially because of what Japan says is the North's unwillingness to come clean over the issue.

The kidnappings are an ever-present political issue in Japan where families of the missing have repeatedly called on the international community to push Pyongyang to release their loved ones.

A UN-mandated investigation issued a searing report in February describing a litany of rights abuses in North Korea, including the abductions of an estimated 200,000 foreign nationals.

Most of them were South Koreans left stranded after the 1950-1953 Korean War, but hundreds of others from around the world have since been taken or disappeared while visiting the country.

Citizens of at least 12 countries are believed to have been snatched along with Japanese taken to train North Korean spies, the report said.

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