• Kyodo

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The government has decided to make a special exception and issue visas to the delegation for North Korea’s women’s soccer team, sources familiar with the matter said Sunday.

Visas are expected to be granted for about 40 North Koreans through the Japanese Embassy in Beijing on Wednesday, the sources said.

The delegation is scheduled to arrive Thursday for the Under-20 Women’s World Cup starting Aug. 19. The tournament will be held at five venues, including Tokyo and Kobe, before winding up on Sept. 8, the sources said.

The delegation would represent the largest group of North Koreans to enter Japan since the government banned entry to protest a nuclear test in October 2006.

Government officials in Tokyo who are trying to make a breakthrough in the abduction issue might attempt to approach members of the delegation. Several Japanese were kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago to teach the Japanese language in the secretive communist state, but the fates of many of them remain unknown.

Japan has no diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Last week, Red Cross officials from both countries met in Beijing and agreed to ask their governments to enter talks on retrieving the remains of Japanese who died in what is now North Korea during the final phase of World War II.

It was the first meeting between the two Red Cross organizations in 10 years, fueling expectations that political dialogue will resume between Tokyo and Pyongyang.

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