• Kyodo

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The Abe administration will thoroughly examine whether a new unit set up by North Korea to probe outstanding abduction issues has direct links with leader Kim Jong Un, and therefore possesses the kind of robust authority needed to investigate any organization within the secretive Stalinist state, government officials said Tuesday.

The officials stressed it is imperative that the unit, which North Korea calls a “special investigation committee,” includes members, for example, of the Ministry of State Security — a secret police organ directly linked to Kim.

During a meeting Tuesday in Beijing, Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for talks to normalize relations with Japan, informed Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, of the organization and composition of the committee, as well as who is in charge.

But Ihara declined to reveal details to journalists, saying he must first report the information to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Cabinet members.

Referring to the head of the probe unit, a Japanese government source said he or she “must be a person close to Mr. Kim Jong Un.”

A Foreign Ministry source said, “We would not allow (North Korea) to exempt the United Front Department (of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea) from being the target of investigations.”

North Korea experts say they cannot rule out the possible complicity of that department, and the Ministry of State Security, in the abduction of Japanese nationals.

Recalling Pyongyang’s last round of probes into the abduction cases in 2004, officials said they do not want to see a repetition of what Tokyo regarded as poorly managed investigations.

The 2004 probes were led by a senior official of the Ministry of People’s Security, a police agency, and carried out by a committee of about 20 people, but did not involve members of the department itself, or the secret police.

Japan’s distrust of North Korea grew after the country handed over what it claimed were the cremated remains of Megumi Yokota — one of 17 abduction victims officially recognized by Tokyo — in November that year. Subsequent DNA tests revealed that the ashes were not Yokota’s.

In 2002, former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted that agents of Pyongyang had abducted 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly for the purpose of training spies fluent in Japanese language and culture.

In 2002, five of the abductees were allowed to return to Japan, with the North claiming that the others, including Yokota, had died.