North Korea has demanded that Japan hand over the cremated remains that it claimed were those of abductee Megumi Yokota and the results of Japanese tests that show they are not hers, Japanese officials said Sunday.
North Korea “appears to be wanting the results of the examination,” Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said on an NHK talk show.
In connection with Machimura’s remark, a senior Foreign Ministry official said North Korea also wants Japan to hand back the remains.
Pyongyang has shown signs of denying official involvement in the matter by pointing out that a man — whom it says was Yokota’s North Korean husband — directly handed the remains to Japanese delegates who visited Pyongyang last month. The man said the ashes were Yokota’s.
Machimura meanwhile indicated reluctance toward imposing economic sanctions on North Korea, saying, “we need to take another step to confront it about the contradictions” in the explanations and materials Pyongyang presented during working-level talks on the abduction issue last month.
“The majority of the international community would then be unlikely to object to Japan imposing such sanctions on North Korea if Pyongyang fails to provide some kind of response,” he said.
The government has been coming under pressure to limit or ban cash remittances to the hardline state, prohibit North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports or use other sanctions to force Pyongyang to release information on the kidnapped Japanese.
But other countries, including South Korea, are wary that sanctions could set back the six-party talks to disarm the North. Three rounds of the talks — involving the United States, Russia, China, Japan and the two Koreas — haven’t made much progress. Pyongyang has refused to resume the discussions.
“North Korea needs to recognize that it doesn’t have much time left,” Machimura said on the NHK program, adding, “As for setting a specific date as the deadline, we’re still considering whether to declare one.”
Based chiefly on DNA analysis, the government concluded earlier this month that the cremated remains are not those of Yokota, one of 10 Japanese victims of North Korean abduction whose fates Tokyo says are still unaccounted for.
Yokota was abducted from Niigata Prefecture at the age of 13 in 1977.
Pyongyang maintains that eight of the 10 are dead — including Yokota, who it says committed suicide in 1994 — and that the other two never entered its territory.