PYONGYANG – Japan on Wednesday held a second day of talks with North Korea on the progress of a probe into missing Japanese nationals, with the focus of the discussions expected to shift to issues such as the remains of Japanese who died after the end of World War II in what is now North Korean territory.
A government delegation is also believed to have heard from North Korea about its probe into Japanese citizens who remained there after the end of the war, as well as the Japanese wives of pro-Pyongyang Korean residents of Japan who moved to North Korea under a 1959-1984 repatriation project.
Kim Hyon Chol, department director of North Korea’s Ministry of Land and Environment Protection, who heads a subcommittee responsible for the remains of Japanese nationals, said at the outset of the meeting that a “full investigation was conducted” into the graves of Japanese citizens, the buried remains and burial sites.
Kim said the military had been working in tandem with the land ministry on the probe, and that North Korea was addressing the issue in response to the request the Japanese government made when representatives from both sides met in Stockholm in May.
The Japanese delegation will also be briefed by Ri Ho Rim, secretary general of the Central Committee of the North’s Red Cross Society, on the fate of those Japanese who remained in North Korea, and the Japanese wives who moved there.
When the two sides conclude talks on Wednesday afternoon, Japan will request that So Tae Ha, vice minister of state security who leads North Korea’s special investigation committee, attend the meeting in order raise the abduction issue with him.
“We will naturally take up the (abduction issue) when we wrap up our talks because that is our priority,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference in Tokyo.
On Tuesday, Junichi Ihara, Japan’s top diplomat for Asian affairs and the leader of the 12-member mission, demanded that the North Korean committee speed up its investigation into the fates of Japanese nationals it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s and report the findings “as soon as possible.”
Ihara told So, who is also counselor for security at the National Defense Commission, the top state organ headed by Kim Jong Un, that the abductions are “the most important issue for Japan” within the broad remit of the investigation launched by Pyongyang in July.
Speaking to reporters after Tuesday’s session, Ihara, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Foreign Ministry, said he also inquired about the progress of Pyongyang’s probe into other missing Japanese who may have been abducted.
But Ihara declined to reveal the responses of So and other committee members, saying they will first report them to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other top government officials.
Japan officially lists 17 nationals as abduction victims but suspects North Korea’s involvement in many more disappearances. While five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002, Pyongyang has maintained that eight have died and four never entered the country.
North Korea has conducted several investigations into abduction cases involving Japanese nationals, but Tokyo has so far dismissed the results, describing them as unconvincing.