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Japan, N. Korea ready to sit down in Beijing

Abduction talks to focus on staff used in North's probe

Kyodo, JIJI

North Korea’s negotiator on the abduction talks with Japan arrived in Beijing on Monday to discuss the specifics of a major agreement struck last month to reinvestigate the disappearances.

“I will tell you details of the meeting after it ends” Tuesday, Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for talks on normalizing relations with Japan, told a throng of reporters upon arrival at the Beijing airport.

Song is expected to explain the structure of the new body North Korea has promised to set up to reinvestigate the whereabouts of the Japanese Tokyo believes were abducted by Pyongyang agents decades ago.

Song stayed mum on the short-range missiles launched by the North in recent days. But on whether Japan might protest the launches in Tuesday’s meeting, he replied, “I have not heard anything like that.”

Japan is keen to know the rank and background of the officials North Korea has appointed to the “special investigation committee,” which would indicate how serious Pyongyang is in determining what happened to its missing citizens.

In an agreement reached in Stockholm in late May, Japan promised to lift some of its unilateral sanctions imposed over North Korea’s missile and nuclear activities if Pyongyang starts reinvestigating the abductions in a substantive manner.

Japan officially lists 17 people as abducted by North Korea but suspects Pyongyang’s involvement in many more.

Five of the 17, and their families, were returned to Japan in 2002.

North Korea that year admitted to having abducted 13 Japanese but said the remaining eight were dead.

On Sunday, the abductees’ relatives met in Fukuoka to restate their determination to bring their loved ones home.

Shigeo Iizuka, 76, head of an association of families of abduction victims, called on the government to stand firm in the talks.

“This time, I think, North Korea will not cheat us,” he said.

Teruaki Masumoto, 58, another member, said, “We cannot wait any longer. This is the last chance.”

In the previous high-level talks, held in Stockholm in late May, North Korea agreed to reopen its investigations into the whereabouts of not only people recognized by Tokyo as abduction victims, but also individuals who went missing and are suspected of having been kidnapped and taken to North Korea.

Fumio Saito, 68, sister of Kaoru Matsuki, who was abducted in 1980 at the age of 26, expressed hope the meeting will be productive.

“Our mother may have given us a good sign,” she said in tears, referring to Sunayo Matsuki, who died in January at the age of 92.

Keiji Furuya, minister for the abductions issue, also attended the meeting.

He said North Korea’s ballistic missile launch on Sunday morning was “within expectations.” Furuya said the Japanese government is committed to resolving the abductions issue.

About 500 people took part. They later marched through downtown Fukuoka.