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Japan plans to invite N. Korean officials for abduction probe update

Kyodo

The government plans to invite North Korean officials to Japan to receive updates and seek more information about Pyongyang’s promised reinvestigation of the whereabouts of Japanese nationals it abducted decades ago, a government source said Sunday.

Japan hopes to move forward on the long-stalled abduction issue by having North Korean officials come to Japan and by sending Japanese officials, including diplomats and members of the National Police Agency, to North Korea, the source said.

With the planned move to invite North Korean officials here, the two sides may hold working-level talks later this month in Tokyo, a source familiar with the matter said, adding such a development will likely take place after Pyongyang begins its full-scale investigation and Japan eases its sanctions on North Korea.

The unilateral sanctions imposed by Japan on North Korea include travel restrictions.

The latest developments in the abduction issue come after Japan and North Korea announced last week that Pyongyang has agreed to look into the fate of 12 missing Japanese listed by Tokyo as among 17 Japanese abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

Wrapping up their three-day talks through Wednesday in Stockholm, Tokyo and Pyongyang also said that North Korea will conduct a thorough investigation into the fates of other Japanese who are missing and suspected of having been kidnapped.

According to the government source, Tokyo expects that North Korea will launch a special committee to conduct the investigation in mid-June and will decide on further easing of sanctions after North Korea fulfills its part of the deal.

The envisioned working-level meeting will mark the first time for North Korean officials to come to Japan since travel restrictions were imposed following the North’s missile launch in July 2006.

Tokyo’s invitation is likely to be extended to diplomats and members of North Korea’s reinvestigation committee, the source said.

North Korea admitted in 2002 to having abducted 13 Japanese, including five who were repatriated to Japan, but Japan remained unconvinced and continued to push the North to reinvestigate.

Pyongyang promised in 2008 to reinvestigate the abduction cases but later reneged on its pledge.

Japan apparently wants to fully monitor and verify North Korea’s reinvestigation, prompting the government to create two checking mechanisms, both in North Korea and Japan, the source said.

In Tokyo, Japan will see if there are any questionable points in North Korea’s briefings, and through the meetings will study details such as the feasibility of further easing its sanctions on the North.

The Japan-North Korea accord, revealed last week, also includes efforts to locate and recover the remains of Japanese who died before the end of World War II in what is now North Korea.