• Kyodo

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North Korea gave a verbal interim report Wednesday on its reinvestigation into 10 Japanese who Tokyo says were abducted in the past, as the two nations kicked off two-day working-level talks, a Foreign Ministry source said.

But the source declined to comment on details, saying, “There’s a need to report it to related concerns.”

After an all-day plenary session at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, the source said Japan questioned North Korea about Susumu Fujita, who is believed to have been abducted to the North.

A picture of a man that looks like him was smuggled out of North Korea. Fujita is not on the Japanese government’s official list of 15 abductees.

The source said North Korea agreed to provide Japan with information about Fujita.

The two sides, continuing their discussions at a working dinner, also spoke about Pyongyang handing over Japanese hijackers and humanitarian assistance, the source said.

Representing Japan in the talks is Akitaka Saiki, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau. His counterpart is Song Il Ho, vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department.

Song told reporters before the working dinner that “both sides were cooperative” during the meeting, but refused to divulge more, saying that talks were still ongoing.

But with the North still continuing its probe and unable to provide full accounts of the 10 Japanese, the two-day talks are unlikely to produce a major breakthrough toward the resumption of negotiations on normalizing ties.

Japan wants North Korea to provide evidence of the fates of the 10 abductees, following North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s promise to reinvestigate the cases from scratch during talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Pyongyang in May.

Before the May summit, North Korea maintained that eight of the 10 had died in North Korea and that the other two had never entered its territory. But Japan remains skeptical due to a lack of evidence.

Japan plans to review all of North Korea’s responses in the meeting before deciding whether to resume full bilateral talks aimed at establishing diplomatic relations.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, a government source said if North Korea fails to give sufficient information on the 10, Tokyo may consider imposing sanctions on the country.

Japan also urged North Korea to hand over four Japanese Red Army Faction members who hijacked a Japan Airlines plane to North Korea in 1970. The North Korean side indicated that it is not opposed to the request.

The four were among nine Japanese who, after hijacking the Boeing 727, were granted political asylum in North Korea. The other five have either died or returned to Japan.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which are being discussed in a multilateral framework, are also likely to be taken up during the two-day talks.

The two nations have been committed to working toward normalization of relations after resolving outstanding issues with the Pyongyang Declaration signed by Kim and Koizumi during their first summit in Pyongyang in September 2002.

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