Sun, Sep 25, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Missing Japanese not on agenda for talks with N Korea


North Korea and Japan will hold talks next month but the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s will not be discussed, a high-ranking North Korean official has told Kyodo News Agency

In its Pyongyang datelined report, Kyodo quoted Jong Thae-hwa as saying that the kidnapping issue has been fully settled and the communist state no longer intends to provide any proof or respond to investigation requests.

Foreign Ministry officials were not available for comment Friday, a national holiday in Japan.

Earlier this week, Japan's foreign minister said the two countries will resume bilateral talks soon on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons, missile programs and the kidnapping issue, to restart negotiations stalled for nearly a year.

The last substantial talks between the two sides took place in November last year. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi held a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in May last year in Pyongyang.

The North has admitted to abducting 13 Japanese to train its spies in Japanese language and culture. Pyongyang allowed five to return to Japan in 2002, saying the remaining eight had died.

Tokyo, however, has demanded proof of the deaths, as well as a thorough investigation into claims that other Japanese were also abducted. North Korea has indicated it considers the issue a closed case.

Family members of those abducted urged Japan to be tough in pushing for answers and called for economic sanctions against the communist country if it didn't sufficiently cooperate.

Jong, a former negotiator in talks with Japan, said the outstanding issue between the two countries was not kidnapping, but Japan's failure to fully atone for past atrocities, including forced labor and sex slaves during its harsh colonization of the Korean Peninsula, according to Kyodo. Japan colonized the Koreas from 1910 until the end of World War II.

Jong repeated Pyongyang's demand that Tokyo return what the North says are the remains of Megumi Yokota, the highest profile kidnap victim, according to Kyodo.

North Korea sent the remains to Japan in November last year after admitting to kidnapping her decades ago, but Japan said DNA tests proved it was not Yokota. Pyongyang then accused Tokyo of fabricating the results to disgrace the North and has demanded the return of the remains.

Japan and North Korea committed to press toward establishing diplomatic relations in a joint declaration during an earlier Koizumi-Kim summit in Pyongyang in 2002. Sporadic talks toward normalization have stalled, however, over the abductions issue. The two countries have never had diplomatic relations.

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