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PYONGYANG — Four of the 11 Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and ’80s are alive but six others are dead, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during their landmark talks on Tuesday.

Kim for the first time acknowledged North Korea’s responsibility and offered an apology, pledging that such incidents will never be repeated, according to a Japanese official who briefed reporters.

In a joint declaration released after the talks, Koizumi and Kim agreed the two countries would resume bilateral normalization talks next month, pledging to make every effort to quickly normalize ties. The talks stalled in October 2000.

The venue and specific date of the upcoming talks will be determined later.

Kim also promised to extend North Korea’s moratorium on missile testing beyond the already-pledged 2003 and expressed readiness to honor past agreements on nuclear issues, Koizumi said.

The North Korean leader said “part of the military” may be responsible for espionage operations by ships in or near Japan’s waters and promised to look into the case, according to Koizumi.

Kim and Koizumi agreed that the two countries should settle Pyongyang’s demand for compensation for Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule through economic cooperation such as grants and low-interest loans.

Koizumi meanwhile expressed Japan’s “deep remorse and heartfelt apology” toward the people of North Korea for the period of colonial rule.

He told Kim he was “gravely shocked” to hear that the six Japanese had died and “strongly protested” the abductions, according to the official.

One of the 11 Japanese was still “missing,” according to the North Korean side.

Koizumi demanded that North Korea continue its probe into the cases, return those who are alive and take measures never again to engage in such activities, the official said.

During their talks, held for 2 1/2 hours at the Paekhwawon state guesthouse, Kim explained that the abductions were carried out by members of special organizations who sought to have those kidnapped teach agents the Japanese language and use their identities to allow them to enter South Korea, apparently for espionage operations.

“These are very horrible acts . . . I regret these incidents and I honestly apologize,” Kim was quoted by the official as saying.

Kim said Pyongyang has conducted a probe and have already punished those involved. “We will never engage in such an act (again),” he was quoted as saying.

Kim said the six died of illness or in natural disasters, but he promised to continue probing the cases and give further explanations to their families.

Progress on the abductions was a critical factor for Japan, given the high public interest and a hardline stance by politicians who say no concessions should be made without progress on the issue.

According to North Korea, Yasushi Chimura and Fukie Hamamoto, a couple who were engaged at the time of their reported abductions from a beach in Fukui Prefecture in 1978, have been found alive.

The two others also said to be alive are also a couple — Kaoru Hasuike and Yukiko Okudo — who were reportedly taken aboard a spy boat from a beach in Niigata Prefecture in 1978.

But Keiko Arimoto, who disappeared from Europe in 1983, and Megumi Yokota, missing since 1977 at the age of 13 while walking home from school on a beach in Niigata Prefecture, are both dead, according to North Korea.

Yokota’s daughter was found to be living in Pyongyang, according to information made available by the North Korean Red Cross Society to Japanese officials just before Koizumi’s meeting with Kim.

Arimoto’s case made headlines again earlier this year after Megumi Yao, the former wife of one of the Red Army fugitives wanted over the hijacking of a Japan Airlines jet in 1970, testified to having played a key role in Arimoto’s abduction, together with a North Korean agent.

Others confirmed dead are Shuiichi Ichikawa and Rumiko Masumoto, who were allegedly abducted from a beach in Kagoshima Prefecture in 1978; Yaeko Taguchi, who is known by her Korean name Lee Un Hye; and Tadaaki Hara.

The case of Taguchi, who was kidnapped in 1978, came to light when Kim Hyung Hee, a terrorist responsible for the bombing of a Korean Airlines plane in 1987, testified that she was taught Japanese by a Japanese woman called Lee Un Hye who was abducted from Japan.

Japanese police believe this woman was Taguchi.

Hara was allegedly abducted by North Korean agent Shin Kwang Su in 1980. Shin re-entered Japan posing as Hara, but was arrested in 1985 by South Korean authorities for using a forged passport and was convicted of abducting Hara.

The fate of Yutaka Kume, who was allegedly taken by a North Korean permanent resident of Japan to a coastline in Ishikawa Prefecture in 1977, where he was handed over to North Korean agents aboard a spy ship, is unknown, with North Korea stating that it has not confirmed whether Kume ever entered the country.

Regarding other matters, Kim promised Koizumi that North Korea will extend its moratorium on missile testing beyond the already-pledged 2003.

Kim effectively said North Korea will accept an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, stipulated under a 1994 accord between North Korea and the United States, stating that he would “abide by an international agreement.”

Under the 1994 agreement, Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear development program and accept an IAEA inspection in return for the provision of a nuclear power plant with two light-water nuclear reactors.

While the U.S. is seeking an immediate inspection, Kim did not specify by when he would comply.

In addition to progress on abduction issues, getting concessions on weapons issues was seen as a prerequisite for resuming normalization talks.

Regarding Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, which Kim described as the “fundamental issue to be resolved,” Koizumi voiced “deep regrets and a heartfelt apology” toward the people of North Korea, using a similar phrase expressed by past prime ministers.

While the 1995 statement by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama expressed heartfelt apology to “the people in Asian countries,” Koizumi made it clear that the apology was specifically directed toward North Koreans.

In previous normalization meetings, Pyongyang has branded Murayama’s statement as “insufficient” as it does not directly refer to North Korea.

Along the same lines, late Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi expressed an apology specifically aimed at South Korean people in 1998, when he and President Kim Dae Jung agreed to build on “future-oriented” relations.

Although North Korea had insisted that Japan provide official compensation for the suffering caused by its colonial rule, Kim effectively accepted Japan’s proposal to offer economic assistance instead.

Japan claims it is not obliged to provide compensation as it was not in a state of war with Korea. In normalizing relations with South Korea in 1965, Japan provided $500 million in the form of economic assistance.

As Koizumi arrived at the guesthouse, Kim, in his trademark khaki jumper, walked toward Koizumi and greeted him with a handshake. “Thank you for coming to Pyongyang to put an end to a relation of being close but distant countries,” Kim said.

“I think the close but distant relationship will be a relic of the 20th century.

“Now that the prime minister has set an example by directly visiting Pyongyang, I think the two countries should be friendly neighbors. I welcome you,” Kim said.

Kim did not meet Koizumi at Pyongyang’s Sunan airport as he did when South Korean President Kim Dae Jung arrived at the airport in June 2000.

North Korea’s No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, greeted Koizumi instead, while no special ceremony was held.

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