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KYODO, STAFF REPORT

North Korea did not provide any new information on the whereabouts of Japanese abducted by North Korean spies in the 1970s and 1980s when Japan’s investigative delegation spent three days visiting Pyongyang this week, a Japanese source said Thursday.

But the North pledged to keep probing the abduction issue, regardless of what its past investigations in 2002 and 2004 turned up, the government source said. Pyongyang’s official stance after the initial probes was that the 12 people on Japan’s official list of abductees either died or never entered the country.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was briefed by Junichi Ihara, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, about the delegation he led to Pyongyang, at the prime minister’s official residence.

Facing reporters Thursday night, Abe said the Japanese delegates emphasized that solving the abduction issue is one of the top priorities of his Cabinet.

“The Japanese representatives held talks for more than 10 hours in two days with So Tae Ha” and other officials who have responsible positions in North Korea’s special investigative committee on the abduction issue, Abe told reporters.

So is chairman of the special committee, which the North set up in July to conduct the probe, which covers Japanese who are missing in North Korea, including those allegedly abducted by the North. As a reward for establishing the committee, Japan lifted some of its unilateral economic sanctions.

North Korea said it will strengthen its probe “from new angles thoroughly, regardless of (the findings) of the past investigations,” Abe said.

Abe said the Japanese delegates were debriefed by the special committee about the current status of the probe and demanded prompt action on the issue.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga will explain more about the talks at a regular news conference on Friday, Abe added.

The delegation comprised about 10 officials from the Foreign Ministry, the National Police Agency, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Headquarters for the Abduction Issue at the Cabinet Secretariat.

The trip to the North came after a meeting in the city of Shenyang, China, on Sept. 29, in which Song Il Ho, North Korea’s ambassador for negotiations on normalizing relations with Japan, suggested that Japanese officials visit Pyongyang to learn about the status of the investigation.

The government officially says that 17 Japanese were abducted by North Korea. Of them, five returned to Japan in 2002 after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a landmark visit to Pyongyang that year. North Korea claims that eight died and four others never entered the country.