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KAGOSHIMA (Kyodo) Two Japanese abducted by North Korea were reported alive there as of 2006, despite Pyongyang’s claim they died decades earlier, a relative of one of them claimed Thursday.

Kenichi Ichikawa, 65, elder brother of Shuichi Ichikawa, who was abducted in August 1978 at age 23, did not reveal where he got the information.

The other abductee is Rumiko Masumoto, who was snatched together with Shuichi. She was 24 at the time.

Kenichi Ichikawa said his brother and Masumoto were among a group of five Japanese in their 50s and 60s seen living at a facility in the village of Dongbuk-ri near Pyongyang.

Ichikawa and Masumoto were abducted in August 1978 from a beach in the town of Fukiage, which is now part of the city of Hioki, Kagoshima Prefecture.

North Korea has said Ichikawa drowned at a bathing beach in 1979 while Masumoto died of heart disease in 1981 after the two married.

Ichikawa and Masumoto are among 17 nationals whom the Japanese government says were abducted to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

Abductee Yaeko Taguchi, according to another recent report, was also seen alive in Pyongyang last year along with two South Korean abductees.

When Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang in September 2002, North Korea admitted to having abducted Ichikawa, Masumoto and 11 others.

North Korea said at the time that eight of the 13 had died. Five of the 13 abductees have been repatriated to Japan.

Kenichi Ichikawa said he hopes the government will show strong leadership to settle the long-standing abduction issue.

Steinberg prods North

Kyodo News

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg urged North Korea on Thursday to “demonstrate sincerity” during proposed preparatory inter-Korean military talks Feb. 11 and return to its 2005 commitment to give up all nuclear programs.

Steinberg told reporters after meeting with Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara that the success of the upcoming dialogue in the truce village of Panmunjom is up to the North and that Pyongyang has an opportunity to “demonstrate very concretely that they are prepared to return to their commitments” made in 2005.

“We’ve always stressed the importance of the North-South dialogue as the necessary beginning of this process and so I hope that the North takes advantage of this opportunity and demonstrates its sincerity,” he said.

The inter-Korean military talks are expected to pave the way for other steps to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula, including the resumption of the stalled six-party talks on denuclearizing the North. The six-way framework involves the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

During his meeting with Maehara, which was partially open to the press, Steinberg stressed the importance of “sending a strong message about the solidarity and cooperation” between the U.S., Japan and South Korea in dealing with “important challenges that we’re facing with North Korea.”

The senior U.S. official, who also met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, was in Tokyo following a visit to South Korea. He was set to leave for Beijing later in the day for consultations on the Korean situation.

On Wednesday, South Korea proposed military and denuclearization talks with the North as the two countries moved to ease tensions following Pyongyang’s deadly artillery attack on a South Korean border island and the revelation of its uranium enrichment program in November.

Steinberg told reporters in Tokyo the North should show it recognizes that its provocations last year, including the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island that killed four South Koreans and the sinking of a South Korean warship that claimed the lives of 46 sailors, created “a very dangerous situation.”

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