Japan plans to support North Korean survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, health minister Chikara Sakaguchi said Tuesday.

Assistance of this kind has not sufficiently reached A-bomb survivors in the North because Tokyo and Pyongyang do not have diplomatic ties.

A measure introduced this year by Japan for survivors in South Korea “could be a possible option” for extending aid to the North Koreans, Sakaguchi said, adding his ministry will consult the Foreign Ministry on the matter.

The government provides health checkups and medical treatment for overseas A-bomb survivors when they visit Japan. Beginning this year, it started sending doctors to South Korea to provide health checks for South Korean victims who cannot visit Japan due to reasons such as illness and age.

In October, the government will begin providing medical treatment subsidies through the Red Cross and other organizations to A-bomb survivors who receive relevant medical treatment in South Korea and other areas outside Japan.

There are an estimated 1,000 A-bomb survivors living in North Korea, officials at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said. In the absence of diplomatic relations, most of them have not been able to visit Japan for checkups or treatment.

Observers said the health ministry probably wants to push forward with aid to North Korean hibakusha now that Japan and North Korea have effectively established some channels of communication. Some of these channels allowed former abductee Hitomi Soga to bring her American husband and their two daughters to Japan from the North, with Tokyo and Pyongyang now set to resume negotiations aimed at normalizing bilateral relations.

Li Sil Kun, who heads an association of North Korean A-bomb survivors in Japan, welcomed Sakaguchi’s remark.

“Now I can expect the government to provide support for A-bomb victims through North Korea’s Red Cross organization, as I have requested for years,” Li said in Hiroshima.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s willingness to normalize diplomatic ties with North Korea might have been reflected in Sakaguchi’s remark, Li said, adding that he will convey it to North Korean hibakusha on his next visit to the North in August.

When the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing days of World War II in 1945, a large number of Koreans and other foreigners were in the two cities, where they were held as prisoners of war or forced laborers.

Hiroshima peace event

Pakistani Ambassador to Japan Kamran Niaz will attend a peace memorial ceremony in Hiroshima on Aug. 6 to mark the 59th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city, the municipal government said Tuesday.

It will be the first time that Pakistan’s ambassador has attended the event in five years.

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