The government will investigate whether Japanese nationals who disappeared at sea in the 1970s and 1980s fell victim to foul play at the hands of North Korea, Keiji Furuya, state minister in charge of the abduction issue, declared.

Furuya said Friday the probe stems from a news report quoting a former high-ranking official of the Korean People's Army as claiming that Japanese fishermen were abducted in the 1980s. No figure was provided regarding how many Japanese disappeared at sea during that period.

The report also alleged that some of the Japanese targeted may have been shot while trying to resist being taken captive.

"We want to reinvestigate what should be reinvestigated," Furuya told a news conference on Japanese citizens whose disappearance at sea was attributed to accidents or other nonsinister reasons.

Asked about a South Korean newspaper's report that the son of Kyoko Matsumoto, who was abducted by North Korea in the 1970s at age 29, may have been among a group of defectors sent back to North Korea from Laos last week, Furuya said, "We are gathering information through diplomatic channels."

The government is expected to probe the disappearances in collaboration with the Japan Coast Guard and other entities.

Addressing a separate news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters: "It is the duty of the government to protect the lives and property of the Japanese people. It is natural to conduct reinvestigations into cases that might be linked to abductions."