National / Politics

Tokyo to send team to North Korea to obtain information on abductees


Japan plans to send officials to North Korea to obtain firsthand information in connection with a reinvestigation being conducted by Pyongyang into the fate of abductees, diplomatic sources said Sunday.

The government, frustrated with the North’s lack of clarity regarding its promised “full-scale” probe, is expected to decide to send a delegation after a meeting Monday with ruling and opposition party members in charge of the issue, according to the sources.

Most relatives of the missing as well as Hitomi Soga, one of five former Japanese abductees repatriated by North Korea, have expressed their opposition to the trip, proposed by Pyongyang in September.

Arrangements are being made for the delegation to meet with So Tae Ha, head of North Korea’s special abduction investigation committee, or his deputy to discover the fates of the 12 remaining Japanese nationals officially recognized by Tokyo as having been abducted by agents of the reclusive state.

Japan officially listed 17 nationals as being abducted in the 1970s and 1980s but suspects the North’s involvement in hundreds of other disappearances.

Five of the 17 returned to Japan in 2002 after a historic visit to Pyongyang by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Since North Korea agreed in May to launch a new round of investigations, Japan has held talks with Song Il Ho, the North’s ambassador for negotiations to normalize relations with Japan.

But Japan has decided that it is time to look for more valuable information from the head of the investigation unit.

The delegation will likely be led by Junichi Ihara, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and include police officials and experts on the abduction issue.

The delegation’s trip to North Korea will take place only once and for a few days, amid concern that the North may try to buy time if Japan agrees to repeated visits.

In July, Japan lifted some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea in return for the launch of the new round of investigations into the issue.

North Korea was due to release its first report on the probe sometime from late summer to early fall.

But the North said last month that the probe is still at an early stage and it is therefore only able to provide initial findings, which are nothing close to what Japan expected.

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