• Kyodo

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Japan and North Korea held at least two informal working-level meetings in China in November on the fates of Japanese who were abducted by Pyongyang’s agents in the 1970s and 1980s, a source familiar with the nations’ relations said Friday.

The meetings were apparently the first since the Japanese government reshuffled diplomatic officials in charge of North Korean affairs in October.

The two sides held at least two rounds of talks in China, including at least one in Shanghai, according to the source.

At the second known meeting in mid-November, Japan demanded that North Korea “promptly and honestly” report the findings of its latest round of investigations into what the fate of the abductees, according to the source. It is not known how North Korea responded.

The North did say it had found on the outskirts of Pyongyang a new burial site containing the remains of Japanese who died around there around the end of World War II, the source said. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

North Korea has yet to report on the abduction victims more than a year after it established a special committee to begin “an all-inclusive and comprehensive investigation into all Japanese residing in the country” in return for Tokyo lifting some sanctions.

On July 3, a day before the purported one-year deadline for the North’s first progress report, Japan announced that Pyongyang had said it needed more time to complete the probe.

Japan officially lists 17 people as abductees but suspects North Korean involvement in many more disappearances. Of the 17 officially listed, five were repatriated in 2002, while Pyongyang claims eight died and four others never entered the country.

Japan intends to step up pressure on North Korea to present information on the 12 officially listed victims who remain missing, Japanese officials said.

It will do so under a new team led by Kimihiro Ishikane, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, as well as the Japanese Embassy in Beijing and other channels via Mongolia.

Japan will also call for increased support from the international community over the matter, the officials said.

Masaaki Kanai, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asia Division, is believed to have attended the mid-November meeting with members of North Korea’s special committee tasked with looking into all Japanese residing in the country, the source said.

Kanai replaced Keiichi Ono, who had served in the post for more than five years, on Oct. 16. Ishikane replaced Junichi Ihara, Ono’s boss, the same day.

Ono is believed to have attended the first known meeting in China with members of the North’s special investigation committee in early November.

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

The abduction issue has prevented the two countries from normalizing diplomatic relations.

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