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An influential citizens’ group investigating the abduction of Japanese citizens to North Korea released Friday a list of 40 more cases that it wants the government to look into.

The National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea also established the same day a separate body to independently investigate the cases.

The people on the new list comprise 27 men and 13 women who went missing between the mid-1950s and mid-1990s.

The nongovernmental organization also supports the victims of suspected abductions to North Korea.

The group’s investigation team will be headed by Kazuhiro Araki, the NGO’s secretary general, representatives of the NGO said. It will interview the families of the suspected abductees and gather information by showing photos of the missing people to former North Korean spies, they said.

The group stressed that the people on its list are only considered possible abductees, and that the chances of all 40 having been spirited away to North Korea is quite low.

Such a possibility, however, “cannot be completely ruled out,” it said.

It said that drawing public attention to the cases is essential to collect information and solve any possible crimes perpetrated by a foreign government.

Araki told a news conference in Tokyo that he does not expect all the cases to be judged as North Korean abductions.

However, he pointed to the need to do something by way of investigating these cases, at least until a government organ can start handling them.

The NGO has so far played a key role in prompting the government to launch full-fledged investigations into suspected abductions, some of which the North Korean government finally admitted to during summit talks in September between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

“We’ll utilize (the new list) as referential information,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuko Fukuda told a news conference Friday when asked about the lists.

According to association officials, the NGO has received information on about 150 missing people across the country whose families and other people involved suspect were kidnapped to North Korea. The people were believed abducted as there were no other apparent reasons for them to have been involved in ordinary crimes or accidents, they said.

The association made public the identities of only 40 of these people in accordance with the wishes of the families involved.

The new list includes Kenichi Matsumoto, a Maritime Self-Defense Force officer who suddenly went missing in 1970 at age 34. His girlfriend at the time was apparently North Korean.

The list also includes Toshio Aratani, who disappeared in 1974 at age 26. Aratani lived near the Shogawa River in Toyama Prefecture. This area was renowned as a contact area for North Korean spies, according to the association.

Also among the 40 are Kyoko Matsumoto, who went missing from Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, in 1977 at age 29; and Miho Yamamoto, who disappeared after leaving home in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, in 1984 at age 20.

Others include couples and fishing boat crews. The entire list of 150 covers disappearances reported between 1953 and 1997.

Pyongyang admitted to Tokyo at the historic summit that its agents abducted or lured 13 Japanese to its shores. It claimed eight of the abductees had since died.

North Korea said it has no record of two others on Japan’s official list of abductees. The five surviving abductees have been back in Japan since October.

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