Japan will make a "strong protest" to North Korea after the communist state fabricated all its evidence about the fate of Japanese whom it kidnapped during the Cold War, victims' relatives said yesterday.
Government officials met family members of the Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents amid growing public anger and calls for economic sanctions against Kim Jong-il's regime.
The officials said a government examination, initial findings of which were announced earlier this month, concluded that human remains which North Korea gave a visiting Japanese mission last month did not match the abduction victims.
"All the evidence was complete fabrication," one of the government officials said at the closed meeting, according to a relative.
"We cannot accept that," the official was quoted as saying. "The re-examination ordered by Secretary-General Kim lacked sincerity. We will make a strong protest."
The official said that Japan would deliver the results of its final study of the remains to the North Korean embassy in Beijing.
The evidence offered by North Korea included ashes said to be those of Megumi Yokota, who was 13 when she was whisked away in 1977 by North Korean agents who kidnapped Japanese people to train spies.
Japanese forensic experts have already said DNA tests proved the ashes are not those of Yokota, whose case has attracted great public sympathy.
North Korea has insisted the remains are genuine. Its official media said Thursday that Yokota's North Korean husband is requesting the return of the ashes in their original state.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, the Japanese government spokesman, on yesterday rejected any thought of returning the remains.
"We are not thinking about [that]," he told reporters.
The controversy has led lawmakers to demand economic sanctions against cash-strapped but heavily armed North Korea.
But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has said such measures would be a last resort against the unpredictable neighbor, which fired a missile over Japan in 1998.
In 2002, Kim for the first time admitted that North Korea had kidnapped Japanese people and allowed five of them to come home, a move which led to aid from Japan and cleared the way for talks on normalizing relations.
But Japan believes at least 10 more abduction victims are alive and being kept under wraps, possibly because they know secrets about the isolated Stalinist state.
North Korea says eight of them are dead and the two others never entered its territory.
The kidnapping issue has dogged relations between North Korea and Japan as they take part in six-nation talks on curbing Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
The US, South Korea and China have all expressed caution about imposing sanctions against North Korea, fearing such a move would deal a blow to the nuclear talks.
A newspaper poll said Tuesday nearly two-thirds of Japanese want sanctions against North Korea over the kidnapping dispute but that the public understands why Koizumi is being cautious with Pyongyang.