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Tokyo denies report of North abductee return offer

Kyodo, Staff Report

Tokyo on Friday denied a South Korean media report that North Korea proposed to repatriate two Japanese abductees during a recent visit to Pyongyang by Isao Iijima, an adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“That’s impossible. I have never been contacted (by the newspaper),” Iijima told reporters. “(The report) must be maneuvering to obstruct Japan-North Korea talks.”

The government lists 17 Japanese nationals as having been abducted by the North’s agents in the 1970s and ’80s, including five who were allowed to return to Japan in 2002. Pyongyang at the time claimed no other abductees remained alive in the North — a position it has yet to officially waver from.

Relatives of missing Japanese and their supporters suspect that more than 100 “tokutei shissosha,” or specified missing people, may have been snatched by Pyongyang.

South Korea’s Seoul Shinmun newspaper reported Thursday that during Iijima’s visit to North Korea last week, the hermit state proposed the repatriation of two tokutei shissosha.

But at a news conference Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the key minister handling the abduction issue, said he “simply doesn’t know” of the report. The government’s position is it demands the immediate return of all the abductees as well as the handover of the abductors and other pertinent facts.

Suga also told reporters that Tokyo will always keep the door open for dialogue with Pyongyang, although he stressed that North Korea should first take concrete actions to abandon its nuclear weapons program.