Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Japan, North Korea to tackle thorny issue of abductions


Japan and North Korea started a second day of talks yesterday expected to focus on the North's past abductions of Japanese citizens, a major obstacle to establishing diplomatic ties between the two nations.

Envoys from both countries met in the Mongolian capital, Ulan Bator, as part of several "working group" sessions required under six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

"We'll make efforts so that we can make a new first step at this round of talks," Japanese envoy Yoshiki Mine told reporters before meeting his North Korean counterpart, Song Il-ho.

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the importance of resolving the issue.

"The abduction problem is an extremely important issue for Japan," Abe said.

The Japanese also would demand that North Korea hand over several Japan Red Army Faction terrorists who led the 1970 hijacking of a JAL plane to Pyongyang and are suspected of helping North Korean agents abduct several Japanese citizens from Europe.

Yesterday was the last day of discussions, and they were not expected to result in an agreement. On Wednesday, the two sides discussed compensation issues connected to Japan's 1910 to 1945 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea admitted in 2002 it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s and sent five of them home, saying the remaining eight were dead. Japan has demanded proof of the deaths and says more of its citizens may have been taken.

Mine reiterated that Japan would not accept North Korean claims that the abduction issue has been resolved, urging Pyong-yang to "take concrete action to resolve the problem."

Japan and North Korea last held bilateral talks in March in Hanoi, Vietnam, but no progress was made.

As part of the wider six-party talks, Pyongyang has already shut down its nuclear reactor in return for energy aid. But Tokyo has refused to provide such aid or set up diplomatic ties unless Pyong-yang accounts for its abductions.

North Korea has demanded reparations from Japan for its colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Japan has yet to formally apologize to the North for its wartime actions.

Other six-party working groups -- on energy assistance, denuclearization and regional peace -- have already met earlier this month.

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