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A former reporter for the daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun who was detained in North Korea for more than two years on suspicion of espionage thanked Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Monday for the ministry’s efforts in freeing him in mid-February.

During a brief meeting at the ministry, Kawaguchi acknowledged the ordeal Takashi Sugishima endured during his detention at the hands of North Korean authorities. Sugishima’s wife, Mutsuko, also attended the talks.

Sugishima told reporters afterward that Pyongyang probably released him as part of efforts to improve ties with Japan, saying the authorities likely thought of him as someone they could use in their negotiations with Tokyo.

He said the North Korean authorities first leveled espionage allegations around April 2000 — four months after he was initially detained.

Sugishima was released by North Korea on Feb. 12 and flew back to Japan via Beijing the same day.

The former reporter for the economic daily was detained by North Korean authorities in December 1999 on suspicion of spying for Japan and South Korea.

Both Tokyo and Seoul have denied any involvement in the case.

Sugishima, a resident of Chiba Prefecture, was on a visit to North Korea as part of a five-member delegation led by Takaya Shiomi, a former leader of the now-defunct Red Army Faction, when he was detained.

Shiomi and three other members of the delegation returned to Japan in early December 1999.

According to North Korean reports, Sugishima collected information using a portable tape recorder and a camera after entering the country on Nov. 30, 1999.

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