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North to give progress report on abductees

Kyodo

Pyongyang is ready only to provide a progress report on its investigation into the fates of 10 Japanese abductees during upcoming bilateral talks, North Korea’s representative for the working-level meeting with Japan indicated Tuesday.

The investigation is “still going on,” Song Il Ho, a senior official from the Foreign Ministry, told reporters shortly after arriving at Beijing’s international airport.

The fates of the 10 Japanese will be the focus of the talks scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Beijing. Japan hopes North Korea will disclose fresh information on some or all of the 10 following North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s promise, during his May summit with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, to reinvestigate the cases from scratch.

A Japanese government source said later in the day, “If (North Korea) gives insufficient information (on the fates of the 10 Japanese), the public sentiment (in Japan) might become tough, which could lead to sanctions.”

North Korea has previously said eight of the 10 had died and the other two never entered its territory, but Japan remains unconvinced because of the lack of hard evidence to support Pyongyang’s claims.

Song said the two sides will “discuss issues of mutual interest.” He said they will probably also take up the issue of four Japanese Red Army Faction members wanted for the 1970 hijacking of a Japan Airlines jetliner to North Korea, where they were granted political asylum. The four reportedly hope to return to Japan.

Japan is calling on North Korea to hand over the four, who were part of a group of nine who hijacked the JAL plane. They have lived in North Korea since the hijacking.

Song said the talks will be held at the Japanese and North Korean embassies.

The Japanese representatives headed by Akitaka Saiki, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, were expected to arrive in Beijing later in the day.

Fugitives glued to talks

BEIJING (Kyodo) Four Japanese who took part in the hijacking of a jetliner to North Korea in 1970 will be watching the outcome of talks between Japan and North Korea in Beijing beginning Wednesday, where the possibility of their extradition from North Korea is to be discussed, a supporter said Tuesday.

The supporter, who visited Pyongyang last week, told reporters on arriving in Beijing that the four “appear to be watching carefully how the issue will be taken up in the Japan-North Korea working-level meeting.”

The four, who belonged to the Red Army Faction, are continuing to call for negotiations with the government concerning their return.

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