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The government may consider offering livelihood support to Japanese who went to Pyongyang as spouses of North Koreans decades ago and who have since returned to Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Monday.

“That is a problem we have to ponder in various ways,” Fukuda said without elaborating.

But before such support can be offered, it will be necessary for the government to take into account the respective reasons why they went to North Korea, Fukuda said, pointing out that some did so of their own free will.

Fukuda’s comments came in response to published reports that the government and some private support groups have helped at least 40 Japanese women and family members return to Japan since around 1994 after they fled North Korea to third countries.

The Foreign Ministry issued travel documents to the women and their husbands, who were former North Korean residents of Japan, according to the reports.

Fukuda declined to confirm the reports, saying he did not want to threaten the safety of the spouses and their relatives or invade their privacy.

Such problems will be resolved if Japan and North Korea normalize relations, he said.

Under a program devised in February 1959 by then North Korean President Kim Il Sung and endorsed by the Japanese government, 93,340 pro-Pyongyang Korean residents of Japan, including married couples and children, were sent to North Korea in the 25 years to 1984.

Among them were 6,800 Japanese wives, husbands and children of North Koreans returning to their home country. Of the Japanese, some 1,800 were women married to North Koreans, according to newspaper reports.

Tokyo, Seoul united

SEOUL (Kyodo) Visiting Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Choi Sung Hong said Monday their countries will demand that North Korea quickly scrap its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable manner, Japanese officials said.

During a meeting in Seoul, they also confirmed the desire of their countries to seek a peaceful solution to the issue based on close cooperation between their countries and the United States, they said.

They underscored the importance of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, an international consortium to provide North Korea with light-water nuclear reactors and fuel oil if Pyongyang suspends its nuclear arms programs, the officials said.

Kawaguchi and Choi agreed to seek coordination by Japan, South Korea and the U.S. by the time KEDO holds an executive meeting Thursday in New York on the recent indication by the U.S. that it may halt fuel oil deliveries to North Korea due to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, they said.

On Saturday, senior officials from Japan, South Korea and the U.S. decided the three countries should continue talks to reach a consensus on the fuel issue before the meeting.

The U.S. has said it will decide whether to deliver this month’s fuel supply to North Korea by the time of the meeting.

KEDO, composed of 12 member countries plus the European Union, is in charge of building two light-water reactors in North Korea under a 1994 accord between Pyongyang and Washington.

Kawaguchi’s talks with Choi took place on the sidelines of the second ministerial conference of the Community of Democracies, being held from Sunday through Tuesday.

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