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The families of Japanese nationals abducted to North Korea and Diet members working to help them reaffirmed Thursday their demand that the government take a firm stance on the issue.

“I want the government to explore what really happened, before it works on normalizing diplomatic ties (with North Korea),” Kenichi Ichikawa told a news conference at a Diet building. The 57-year-old’s younger brother, Shuichi, was kidnapped in Kagoshima Prefecture in 1978.

The families and a group of Diet representatives working on the abduction issue are scheduled to meet Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at his official residence Friday.

The group said it will urge Koizumi to instruct a planned fact-finding mission to North Korea to conduct thorough investigations into the abduction issue and get an agreement from Pyongyang to extradite responsible agents to Tokyo. The group will also demand compensation for victims and their relatives.

Also present were a sister and an aunt of Hitomi Soga, an abductee who was not on Japan’s official list of 11 abductees but was reported by North Korea as living in the Stalinist state, along with the elder brother of Yaeko Taguchi, who is believed to have been the Japanese-language instructor of a North Korean agent who blew a Korean Air jetliner out of the sky in 1987, were also present.

It was their first public appearance.

New Cabinet panel

The government formed an organization Thursday in the Cabinet Secretariat to support relatives of Japanese nationals who were abducted to North Korea, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said.

Former Ambassador to Uzbekistan Kyoko Nakayama was appointed head of the support body, Fukuda said during his daily news briefing. Nakayama is expected to look after the family members’ psychological well-being.

Asked why she was appointed, the top government spokesman cited her personality and experience in international affairs.

The government will soon secure space in the Cabinet Office so the families can visit the government whenever they want to.

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