North Korea promises abductee probe will be fair, comprehensive: Suga

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

This week’s abduction talks in North Korea shed little light on the questions Japan wants answered, as Pyongyang offered no new information about what happened to Japanese it kidnapped, the government said Friday.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said North Korea’s delegates underscored their commitment to conducting a full and fresh investigation untainted by Pyongyang’s previous, discredited assertions about those missing.

“(The North) explained it will conduct the investigation objectively and scientifically with emphasis on witnesses and physical evidence, and will comprehensively deepen its probe, examining the matter from new angles, regardless of the findings of past investigations,” he said.

He also said that Pyongyang will look into the actions of what it called a “special agency,” but gave no further details about this body or the role it might have played in the abductions.Relatives of some of the 17 people Tokyo officially recognizes as having been seized expressed disappointment that the mission returned empty-handed, although they said they had anticipated that this would happen.

Tokyo believes the missing individuals were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Of them, five were allowed to return to Japan in 2002, the year in which then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a historic visit to Pyongyang.

North Korea said the eight of the remaining abductees died and the four others never entered the country. But the National Police Agency estimates that as many as 883 missing Japanese may have been abducted by North Korea.

The North “said it has been reviewing which abductees entered the country, what happened to them, and how they lived,” Suga reported.

Though nothing has been decided on when the two countries may meet again for talks, Suga said the government expects North Korea to deliver the first report on its findings by the end of the year.Relatives of the abductees, who have been skepticalabout the value of sending a government delegation to Pyongyang, were disappointed.

“We are very disappointed that there were no fresh reports on the fate of the abductees after all, which was what we had expected,” said Shigeo Iizuka, a representative of the abductees’ families.

“It’s very odd that the investigation has not yielded any results,” Iizuka added. He was speaking after being debriefed by government officials.

Iizuka said many families agree that the government now needs to set a deadline for North Korea to deliver — or Tokyo will find itself being strung along by Pyongyang.

Korea experts said the North was trying to show that it is committed to carrying out the deal struck with Japan in Stockholm in May, in which it was asked to reopen the probe.

“In the least, North Korea showed it was ready to live up to the Stockholm agreement,” by explaining the status of the probe and pledging to keep it going, said University of Shizuoka professor Hajime Izumi, a Korea expert.

Izumi said it’s uncertain whether the North will provide specifics on the abductees’ whereabouts, and Tokyo needs to continuously emphasize that solving the abduction issue is Japan’s highest priority.

“If the government tones down its stance on the abduction even slightly, North Korea might believe Japan has lost its interest in the issue, which could make the country less serious about solving it,” Izumi said.

Professor Izumi also stressed the importance of holding more meetings to move the issue forward.

“Without the talks, things would have stopped as they stand now,” he said.

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