The Liberal Democratic Party gave the go-ahead Oct. 8 to a government plan to send $27 million in food aid to North Korea, a move widely regarded as a swap to enable Japanese women now living there to visit their homeland.The aid, to be formally approved by the Cabinet as early as Oct. 9, is to be provided to the famine-stricken country through the U.N. World Food Program. Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka confirmed at a regularly scheduled press conference that the government will go ahead with the aid.Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi visited LDP headquarters to brief a diplomatic panel on the government plan, LDP officials said. Obuchi told the panel that Japan has a humanitarian responsibility as a member of the international community, given that other countries such as the U.S. and South Korea have already made contributions.The panel gave its approval, provided that the government keeps pressing North Korea to reveal the whereabouts of at least 10 Japanese believed abducted by its agents in the 1970s. Some LDP legislators had opposed food aid, saying it would be too generous of Japan in light of the alleged abductions.Masakuni Murakami, ranking Liberal-Democrat in the Upper House, has said that in exchange for the food assistance the Foreign Ministry should urge the U.N. to set up a panel to work toward repatriating the Japanese believed abducted. The request for the food came through the U.N.The hardliners finally agreed with the government plan, acknowledging recent progress in achieving bilateral relations, including an expected homecoming of Japanese women married to North Koreans and living in the country. Tokyo and Pyongyang agreed Sept. 9 that the first group of wives will be allowed to visit Japan later this month, but no specific date has been set. Japan has no diplomatic ties with North Korea.The major portion of the aid will be 67,000 tons of what is termed excess rice. North Korea has been hit by a severe food shortage caused by massive flooding and droughts.

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