The government wants the surviving Japanese who were kidnapped by North Korea to return to Japan before it resumes diplomatic normalization talks with the Stalinist state next month, officials said Wednesday.

The government plans to launch a full-scale probe into the abductions of the more than a dozen Japanese citizens about whom Pyongyang provided information during a landmark summit Tuesday between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

“The government must repent” for its slow response to the abduction issue, Koizumi told reporters earlier in the day, effectively admitting the government was at fault for failing to resolve the kidnappings in the roughly two decades since they occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.

Koizumi will meet Sept. 27 with relatives of the abducted Japanese to personally discuss his meeting with Kim, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

During the talks in Pyongyang, the North Korean side gave Japan information concerning a total of 14 Japanese, including 11 whom Japanese police have suspected were kidnapped by North Korean agents.

Four of those 11 abductees were confirmed alive by Japanese officials who actually met with them the same day in Pyongyang. North Korea said eight others have died, and Kim apologized for their abductions.

Of the eight dead, two people — Kaoru Matsuki of Kumamoto Prefecture and Toru Ishioka of Hokkaido — were not among the 11 abductees on Tokyo’s official list, and were instead listed as “missing.”

Pyongyang also said another Japanese, whose identity has not been confirmed by Tokyo, was alive. Japanese authorities are looking into his case.

One person remains unaccounted for, and North Korea said it has not confirmed that the man had ever entered the country.

Koizumi and Kim agreed Tuesday and the two countries should resume stalled normalization talks in October. A government official said Wednesday that Japan wants the surviving abductees repatriated by the time the bilateral negotiations reopen, if they want to return.

Separately, Fukuda told a news conference that the government will set up a Cabinet task force, consisting entirely of Cabinet members, to deal with such matters.

In addition to seeking their repatriation, the task force will try to arrange for relatives of the abductees to visit North Korea and meet them.

The kidnapping issue was a major topic when Koizumi met with other ruling coalition leaders at his official residence earlier in the day.

Koizumi told them: “It was extremely regrettable to hear the outcome of (North Korea’s) investigation into the missing Japanese. I decided, however, to restart our normalization talks in October with an aim to resolve pending concerns over the country’s security and nuclear issues.”

Koizumi expressed Japan’s intention to consult fully with the United States, South Korea, Russia and China as the Tokyo-Pyongyang talks enter a new phase.

The ruling coalition leaders meanwhile urged the government to launch a probe into the abductions, including why eight of them died prematurely.

North Korea said they died of causes related to illness or natural disasters but failed to give further details.

“The bilateral summit opened a new page in our history,” New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki told reporters after the meeting, “but Japan cannot forgive North Korea for its abductions of our people.”

Kanzaki said the government must work to realize the visits to Japan of those abductees who were confirmed alive before normalization talks resume next month.

Takeshi Noda, leader of the New Conservative Party, also urged the government to further investigate the abductions, and praised Koizumi’s efforts to convey Japan’s demands directly to Kim.

LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki underscored the significance of Koizumi’s Pyongyang visit in terms of international efforts to establish peace in Northeast Asia, and agreed on the need for a full investigation into the abductions.

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