Returnees’ group may visit N. Korea to help repatriate Japanese remains

JIJI

The pro-Pyongyang group Chongryon has sounded out an association of Japanese returnees from North Korea about sending its officials to the reclusive country this month to help repatriate Japanese remains, according to sources.

Executives of the returnees’ group, Zenkoku Seishinkai, met with officials of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan around July 20 to discuss recovering the remains and sending them home, the sources said.

Chongryon’s representatives inquired about the possibility of Zenkoku Seishinkai members visiting North Korea for 10 days starting Aug. 28, and the Kyoto-based group filed a request Aug. 1 with the Foreign Ministry seeking permission for the trip, they said.

If the government authorizes the plan, five members of Zenkoku Seishinkai, including senior official Sadao Masaki, would travel to North Korea to conduct research on possible burial sites of Japanese who died around the end of the colonial period, according to the sources.

Zenkoku Seishinkai represents Japanese who were based in the northern city of Chongjin and who returned home after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. The group currently has some 250 members.

At the July meeting, the two sides worked to identify sites in Chongjin that might contain the remains of Japanese, according to the sources.

The group plans to hold another meeting with Chongryon soon to discuss further details about the potential visit, they added.

Chongryon’s proposal came nearly three weeks before officials from the Japanese and North Korean Red Cross societies met in Beijing.

According to some analysts, the timing may suggest Pyongyang is signaling its readiness to make progress on the remains issue, apparently to persuade Tokyo to ease harsh sanctions and provide the poverty-stricken country with economic assistance.

At the meeting held Aug. 9 and 10 in Beijing, the first between the two sides in 10 years, the two Red Cross societies agreed to cooperate on repatriating the remains.

Japan and North Korea are set to hold a government-level meeting in Beijing on Aug. 29 — the first such gathering in four years amid icy bilateral relations — to discuss the issue.

Bilateral forum scrapped

A scheduled private-sector forum between Japan and South Korea scheduled to start Aug. 29 in Fukuoka has been postponed amid deteriorating bilateral ties.

Tokyo decided to call off the event following President Lee Myung Bak’s recent visit to a chain of disputed islets in the Sea of Japan, as well as his demand that Emperor Akihito apologize over Japan’s colonial rule of the peninsula, sources said Friday.

The two sides are in agreement that it would be difficult to hold the three-day forum in a calm atmosphere and to promote constructive dialogue under current circumstances, the sources said.

According to the Japan Center for International Exchange, which serves as the forum’s secretariat, Yuzaburo Mogi, the Japanese chair of the meeting, told the South Koreans that it should be put off until bilateral tensions ease.

Still, Mogi said he recognizes the importance of holding discussions between private-sector entities from the two countries.

Lee visited the cluster of islets controlled by Seoul, which are known as the Takeshima Islands in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, on Aug. 10, becoming the country’s first president to set foot on the barren outcroppings.

On Tuesday, Lee further strained bilateral ties by saying the Emperor would have to apologize to South Koreans who died during Japan’s 1910-1945 rule of the Korean Peninsula if he ever wishes to visit the country.

The forum’s inaugural meeting was held in 1993, based on an agreement reached by Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and President Kim Young Sam.