Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama on Friday urged Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to put the abductions issue at the top of the agenda at next week’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Hirayama made the request in a letter he delivered to the prime minister’s office in Tokyo. The letter was handed to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda; Koizumi is currently visiting the United States.

The alleged abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea is “the most important issue,” Hirayama said in the letter, adding that until it is resolved it will be “impossible to normalize ties between Japan and North Korea.”

Japan claims at least 11 nationals were abducted to North Korea between 1977 and 1983. North Korea flatly denies the claim.

The letter urges the quick return of three people who went missing in Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast between 1977 and 1978. The three are: Megumi Yokota, 13; Kaoru Hasuike, 20; and Yukiko Okudo, 22.

Fukuda told Hirayama that he will relay Hirayama’s request to Koizumi.

“I only hope the prime minister will do his best,” Hirayama said after his meeting with Fukuda. “The relatives of the missing people are waiting for some good news.”

Yokota, a junior high school student at the time, went missing in the city of Niigata on Nov. 15, 1977, on her way home from school. She was last seen by a friend near the seashore about 250 meters from her home.

Hasuike, a college student, and Yukiko Okudo, a cosmetician, vanished in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, on July 31, 1978, after separately telling relatives and colleagues that they were going to meet each other on a date. Hasuike’s bicycle was found at a library near the seaside close to where they were supposed to meet.

The abduction issue has been a major stumbling block to normalizing diplomatic ties between the two countries, along with Pyongyang’s demand for compensation and an apology from Tokyo for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The two issues are expected to be taken up on Tuesday, when Koizumi meets with Kim in Pyongyang.

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