Japanese negotiators traveled Tuesday to North Korea to discuss a dispute over the communist country's kidnapping of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, as calls grow in Tokyo to use economic sanctions to push the talks forward.
Japan wants North Korea to explain what happened to eight kidnapped Japanese who North Korea says died in the North, and to two others Tokyo alleges were abducted. Five other Japanese kidnapped by North Korea were allowed to return to Japan in 2002.
Tokyo will also question the North about dozens of other Japanese it believes may have been abducted to train Northern spies in Japanese language and customs, or to provide them with Japanese identities.
Two previous rounds of talks, held in August and September in Beijing, ended without progress, prompting Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura to accuse North Korea of being insincere and say Tokyo could use economic sanctions to prod a better response.
The two sides were to hold a preparatory meeting after the Japanese delegation arrived in the North Korean capital, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said yesterday. More substantive discussions will be held today, he added. The talks were scheduled to end on Friday.
"Today and tomorrow we'll be able to tell basically what North Korea is thinking and what its attitude will be," Hosoda told a news conference.
Japan expects North Korea to report on an investigation into the whereabouts of the missing Japanese. The Japanese delegation, which includes police experts, will then verify the information, Hosoda said.
Delegation head Mitoji Yabunaka told reporters in Beijing before boarding a plane for Pyongyang that he hoped to speak directly to the head of the North Korean task force investigating what happened to the kidnapped.
"Our team will unite together to find out the truth," Yabunaka said in remarks broadcast on Japanese television.
The national Mainichi newspaper said in an editorial yesterday that proposals to slap economic sanctions on the North will gain momentum in Japan if the talks don't address Japanese concerns.
"North Korea should realize that if there continues to be no solution to the abduction issue, then calls for sanctions will grow not just in the Liberal Democratic Party but also among the Japanese people," the Mainichi said.
A poll by the Yomiuri, another national newspaper, in September showed 68 percent of voters believed Japan should impose sanctions on North Korea if the abduction talks drag on without progress.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002 that his country kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.
Japanese officials, however, say mysterious circumstances surrounding the alleged deaths of eight victims raise doubts about North Korea's claims.