Citizens’ groups seeking the return of Japanese nationals allegedly abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s demanded Monday that Japan explain its reported plan to provide food aid to North Korea at a time when there is no visible improvement in the communist country’s efforts to resolve the issue.

A representative of the groups handed a written demand to Foreign Ministry officials and requested a meeting with Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.

One of the groups’ representatives was Shigeru Yokota, whose daughter, Megumi, disappeared at age 13 in 1977 from Niigata.

Kazuyoshi Umemoto, director of the ministry’s Northeast Asia Division, said the foreign minister’s office is trying to arrange a meeting between Kono and group representatives for later this week, according to Kazuhiro Araki, secretary general of one of the groups.

In the demand addressed to Kono, the three groups said they oppose any official aid to North Korea “unless there are developments on the abduction issue.”

If the planned food aid is meant to be humanitarian in nature, the government should take into consideration remarks by some nongovernmental organizations that the aid does not actually reach North Korea’s hungry citizens, the document says.

They also asked Kono to explain whether the actual food aid to North Korea, including 100,000 tons of rice decided on in March and shipped thereafter, has had any positive effect on Japan’s policy toward the country.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa said Monday that Japan will likely decide by the end of the week on the amount of rice it will provide North Korea as food aid.

According to government sources, Japan is considering providing North Korea with about 500,000 tons of rice to alleviate the country’s food shortage, exceeding the 195,000 tons the World Food Program asked the international community to send North Korea for a four-month period from mid-September.

Tokyo believes at least 10 Japanese nationals were abducted by North Korea in seven cases in the 1970s and 1980s. Pyongyang denies the allegations, but has promised to search for the Japanese as “missing persons.”

The issue remains a major obstacle to efforts to normalize ties between the two countries.

Senior Japanese and North Korean negotiators failed to bridge differences over the issue in the second round of their normalization talks in Japan in August. They are scheduled to meet again in late October in a third country that has yet to be decided.

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