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Staff writer

Several younger-generation Diet members, mostly conservatives, are growing impatient with what they consider to be a lukewarm government policy toward North Korea and are calling for a more hardline position toward Pyongyang.

Upper House member Ichita Yamamoto, from the Liberal Democratic Party, argues that Tokyo critically lacks a strategy for dealing with the reclusive neighbor. “(North Korea’s) missile development, suspected nuclear facilities, kidnappings — these are happening very close to this country, but the Japanese government has failed to come up with effective diplomatic policy (to stop them),” Yamamoto said.

He and seven other lawmakers, including four from the LDP and another from its coalition partner, the Liberal Party, recently formed a nonpartisan group to come up with strategic diplomacy against North Korea.

They are suggesting that Japan acquire more smarts and cards to play in bilateral negotiations. Among their proposals is legislation to stop the export of goods convertible for military use that are allegedly being shipped to North Korea from Japan via third countries. “We’ve been told by military sources that Pyongyang is seeking to obtain Japanese-made aluminum alloy through a third country for its development of high-tech weapons, such as its Taepodong (ballistic missiles),” Yamamoto, 41, said after the group met this week.

Yamamoto said he and others in the group will soon leave for Seoul to investigate how Japanese products and technology are being diverted for use in Pyongyang’s military programs. They will meet with intelligence officials and inspect North Korean submarines seized by South Korea.

The group also plans to bring before a United Nations human rights body the alleged abductions of Japanese to North Korea by agents of the Stalinist state. Tokyo believes at least 10 Japanese were abducted by North Korea between 1977 and 1980, although Pyongyang continues to deny any knowledge of this.

On Thursday, Shigeru and Sakie Yokota met with Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi to call for greater government efforts to get back their daughter, Megumi, who was 13 years old when she disappeared in 1977 and was believed abducted by North Korean agents. “If a group of lawmakers visits the U.N. offices in New York and Geneva and directly appeals to (U.N. Secretary General) Kofi Annan, I think there will be an impact,” said Yamamoto, the group’s organizer.

The group is also suspicious about Pyongyang’s plea for food aid.

At a meeting of the group Wednesday, a Defense Agency research institute official told the lawmakers that news of recent food shortages in North Korea may be exaggerated, noting there was an inflow of 5 million tons of food in the past year that should have been enough to feed the people.

The members want food aid to be a bargaining chip to gain information from North Korea on the abductions, Yamamoto said.

Tokyo has suspended food aid to protest Pyongyang’s launch of a rocket over Japan in August, and the government has said the freeze will not be lifted until North Korea guarantees there will be no further launches.

Japan does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, and talks for normalizing ties have been stalled since 1992.

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