• Kyodo

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Pyongyang has asked Japan to send government officials to North Korea in a secret contact related to its probe into past abductions of Japanese nationals, proposing that the officials meet with “survivors,” a source close to bilateral relations said Sunday.

Tokyo has apparently turned down the offer, considering the possibility that the “survivors” may not actually include abduction victims, though Japan views the proposal as indicating that North Korea intends to make Pyongyang the venue for handing over its first report on the abduction probe.

The government was apparently also cautious that the meeting could be used by North Korea to “draw a curtain” on the cases of Japanese nationals who were abducted by Pyongyang agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

According to the source, North Korea’s proposal came after the two governments held talks in July, when Japan agreed to partially lift its unilateral sanctions on North Korea as Pyongyang launched a special committee to reinvestigate the abductions.

The “survivors” issue is likely to have been taken up either through a contact via the Japanese Embassy in Beijing or a secret meeting between senior officials of the North’s Ministry of State Security, North Korea’s secret police organ, and Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.

A government official pointed out that the survivors at the proposed meeting might not be abductees but rather Japanese wives whose survival is presumed after they moved with their Korean spouses to North Korea.

Around 1,800 Japanese women are thought to have accompanied their Korean spouses to the North under a repatriation program dating from 1959.

“It could also be that the reinvestigation into the abduction issue is insincere” and North Korea may nevertheless press Japan to accept the outcome, the official said.

It has become possible for Japanese government officials to visit North Korea following the lifting of restrictions on travel between the countries.

But North Korea has not presented new information about 12 people who are officially recognized by the Japanese government as abductees and missing people who are suspected of having been abducted by Pyongyang.

As the government is urging North Korea to prioritize the probe into the abduction cases, it is apparently difficult for Japanese officials to visit the country without knowing who they could meet.

Japan had expected North Korea to submit its first report in the second week of this month, but no date has yet been set.