Japan’s newly appointed minister in charge of the abduction issue says the government will arrange a meeting on Friday with families of the victims, in response to their request for a direct explanation about the status of negotiations with North Korea.

“I assume they have various questions and requests, and I want them not to hesitate to bring them to the Foreign Ministry. And I want the Foreign Ministry to listen sincerely to them, and lead the negotiation to a successful conclusion,” Eriko Yamatani said in a group interview at her Tokyo office on Wednesday, which marked the 12th anniversary of Pyongyang’s admission to the kidnappings.

Pyongyang is expected to report soon on its promised investigation into the fate of Japanese its agents abducted in the 1970s and 1980s. But Yamatani said the government has not received any concrete information on the release date, or how the content would be delivered.

Yamatani also said the central government has demanded that North Korea provide a full account of the abduction issue and that it hand over the perpetrators.

“The North is now given a chance to make a decision to develop as a nation with dignity in the international community. To do this, it must solve human rights and abduction issues,” she said.

On Sept. 17, 2002, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a landmark visit to Pyongyang to have a summit meeting with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who acknowledged the abductions and apologized.

Of the 17 Japanese nationals the Japanese government officially recognized as abductees, five returned to Japan in October 2002. The isolated state claimed that the remaining 12 had either died or never entered the country.

Yamatani, 63, said she gave much thought to the families of the abduction victims, adding that they must have had an extremely hard time over the past 12 years.

“I assume the family members had expected some development (toward solving the abduction issue) since then. We at the government are feeling sorry” for the lack of progress, Yamatani noted.

She reiterated the policy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is to call on North Korea to ensure the safety of all the abductees and to return all of them to Japan at the earliest possible date.

“We have to settle (the abduction issue) at the earliest possible date, when we think of suffering of the victims, and that some of their family members are at an advanced age,” Yamatani said.

North Korea has said it will report results of its probe around “late summer or early autumn,” after it set up a special committee to investigate the whereabouts of the abductees on July 4.

Yamatani, an Upper House member, served as head of the task force handling the abduction issue at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party before being appointed state minister in the Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month.

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