The government is making arrangements to send Foreign Ministry employees to North Korea to ensure the safety of supporters of the national soccer team who will travel to Pyongyang later this month to watch a World Cup qualifying match, ministry officials said.
With roughly 200 Japanese expected to travel to North Korea for the Nov. 15 match, a government official called it “necessary to dispatch Foreign Ministry staff from the standpoint of protecting Japanese nationals.”
It would be the first visit by ministry bureaucrats to the North since May 2004 when some officials accompanied then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on his historic trip to Pyongyang, the officials said.
The ministry officials aim to use the hotel they will stay at in Pyongyang as their base, as Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties.
Officials from the ministry’s Consular Affairs Bureau and Northeast Asia Division — under the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau — intend to negotiate with North Korean authorities over contingencies such as accidents involving the Japanese soccer supporters.
The move follows Japan’s decision to take the extraordinary step of allowing members of the national team, reporters and soccer supporters who register for official tours organized by the Japan Football Association to travel to North Korea.
As part of sanctions imposed in response to Pyongyang’s missile launch in July 2006, Japan asks its nationals to refrain from visiting the North and has suspended travel by public servants.
The planned dispatch has prompted protests from opposition lawmakers concerned that easing the travel ban will set a dangerous precedent while outstanding issues such as North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese nationals and Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program remain unresolved.
The match, a qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, will be played at the 50,000-seat Kim Il Sung Stadium.