• Kyodo

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The government has returned souvenirs from North Korea seized at an airport to the Korean school students in Japan to whom they belonged, sources familiar with the matter said Monday.

The items were confiscated when the students returned from a trip to the country.

In a rare gesture, the government gave the items back to the students last Wednesday after discussing the matter with the school, according to the sources.

According to the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Chongryon, customs officials at Kansai International Airport in Osaka Prefecture confiscated souvenirs from 62 students of Kobe Korean Senior High School on June 28 when they returned from North Korea via Beijing. The items included cushions, cosmetics and handicrafts.

An official at the Prime Minister’s Office had expressed concern, saying that “such confiscations would only provoke an unnecessary backlash from North Korea.”

Under its own sanctions imposed in protest at Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, Japan in principle prohibits bringing in goods from North Korea other than personal belongings and those for humanitarian purposes. But the seizure of such items seems to vary among airports in Japan.

On July 4, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency condemned the confiscation, urging “the customs authorities to make an apology for the brutal human rights abuse and the Japanese government to lift the hostile policy toward (North Korea) and Chongryon as early as possible.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been seeking a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to address the denuclearization of the country. The United States and South Korea have both held talks with Kim. But Pyongyang has so far shown no interest in holding a meeting with Abe under the conditions put forward by the prime minister.

Abe is also hoping to address the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s through talks with Kim.

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