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BEIJING (Kyodo) Pyongyang has issued arrest warrants for Japan-based activists who have helped North Koreans “flee” their country, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Monday in an apparent retaliatory move against Tokyo.

The warrants are believed to be a tit-for-tat measure against Japan, which recently put two North Korean agents on the international wanted list and conducted raids in Japan in connection with Pyongyang’s abductions of Japanese civilians in the 1970s and 1980s.

A government source said Tokyo has been informed of the issuance of the warrants through diplomatic channels. Those named in the warrants are believed to have helped North Koreans who have escaped into China gain safe passage to a third country.

“Anti-DPRK organizations and individuals abducted our citizens in broad daylight,” an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean Ministry of People’s Security was quoted as saying. DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We regard this as a grave infringement upon our national sovereignty and safety of citizens, part of the plot to overturn our system,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.

The spokesman named four individuals, including Lee Young Hwa, head of the Rescue the North Korean People Urgent Action Network, and Hiroshi Kato, secretary general of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, who have had warrants issued for them.

North Korea had demanded in February at bilateral talks in Beijing that Japan hand over the activists, claiming they violated North Korean law by helping its citizens “leave the country.”

Japanese diplomats rejected the request.

Scores of North Koreans have crossed the border into China in recent years, often to flee from extreme poverty, in the hope of eventually going to South Korea. Some of them sought asylum in foreign missions in Beijing.

Tokyo, meanwhile, has been demanding Pyongyang hand over North Korean agents responsible for the kidnapping of Japanese.

Earlier this month, it put one former and one active agent suspected of having been involved in the abductions on the international wanted list.