• Kyodo

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Japan has sounded out North Korea about sending a delegation next Monday to check its investigation into the fate of people abducted by Pyongyang decades ago, government sources said Tuesday.

The delegation, to be led by Junichi Ihara, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, is expected to be in North Korea for four to five days, the sources said.

Earlier Tuesday, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the government had yet to decide on the timing of the dispatch as the two countries are still discussing the matter through their embassies in Beijing.

Kishida said that once it arrives, the mission will “tell a person at a suitable position that the abduction issue is the highest priority for our country and ask questions about the current state of the investigation.”

In an attempt to advance the investigation into the abductees, Japan appears poised to arrange talks between the mission and So Tae Ha, chairman of the North’s special investigation committee, and receive a briefing on the probe directly from him. So is also vice minister of state security.

Japan lifted some of its unilateral sanctions in July after North Korea said it would launch a new investigation into the abductees and other missing Japanese suspected to have been abducted.

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

But Pyongyang said last month the probe was still at an early stage and it was therefore able to provide only initial findings, which is far from what Japan expected.

According to North Korea, the investigation committee, staffed by about 30 officials, has been given a special mandate from the National Defense Commission, the top state organ led by leader Kim Jong Un, to investigate all institutions and mobilize relevant institutions and people when necessary.

North Korea has conducted investigations into the abductions of Japanese in the past, but Japan did not accept the results, saying they were unconvincing.

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

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

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