• Kyodo

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North Korea may delay the first report to Japan of the new round of investigation into abduction cases of Japanese nationals to the third week of September or later, sources said Thursday.

The delay appears to reflect Japan’s reluctance in behind-the-scenes negotiations to accept North Korea’s request to lift more sanctions and provide humanitarian aid in return for the first report, the sources said.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong told Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Aug. 10 at a meeting in Myanmar that Pyongyang will present the report in early September.

Japanese officials have assumed Tokyo would receive it in the second week of the month after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe returns from a trip to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka from Sept. 6 to 8.

Along with a call for Tokyo to lift a ban on the Mangyongbong-92 passenger-cargo ferry entering Japanese ports, North Korea has demanded that Japan extend humanitarian assistance and block the sale of the Tokyo headquarters building and land of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), according to the sources.

Japan, however, has told North Korea that it is too early to agree to lift the ban on the Mangyongbong-92 after merely receiving the first report. Japan also stressed it would not provide rice and other aid to North Korea without progress in the abduction issue.

The sources said Japan will urge North Korea to present the report at an early date, partly because Abe plans to visit the United States to attend the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly in late September.

Japan will also repeat its demand that North Korea intensively investigate to learn the whereabouts of missing Japanese who are highly likely to have been abducted by Pyongyang, along with the 12 who are officially recognized by Tokyo as abduction victims and not yet returned to Japan.

So far Japan has yet to confirm that North Korea has carefully investigated such cases, raising suspicion that Pyongyang may not present credible information about them.

On July 4, Japan lifted some sanctions on North Korea in return for the launch of the new round of investigations into Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s. The victims were believed spirited away mainly for the purpose of training spies in Japanese language and culture. The probe was also to cover other missing Japanese suspected to have been abducted.

North Korea has conducted investigations into the abductions of Japanese nationals in the past, but Japan dismissed the results, saying they were unconvincing.

Japan officially lists 17 nationals as abductees but suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances. While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang claims eight have died and four others never entered the country.

The number of missing Japanese who may have been abducted by North Korea ranges from about 470 as listed by the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea, a Tokyo-based civic group, to 860 as estimated by the National Police Agency.

The abduction issue has prevented the two countries from normalizing diplomatic relations.