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Japan, N Korea govt officials to hold talks in China

Government officials from Japan and North Korea will hold talks in China next Monday, the first such meeting since November 2012, the Japanese foreign ministry and Red Cross Society said on Thursday.

TOKYO: Government officials from Japan and North Korea will hold talks in China next Monday, the first such meeting since November 2012, the Japanese foreign ministry and Red Cross Society said on Thursday.

The talks will be on the sidelines of meetings by Red Cross officials from the two countries, a Japanese Red Cross spokesman said.

"The talks will be held in Shenyang on March 3," he said.

Japan's foreign ministry will send Keiichi Ono, the head of its Northeast Asia division, to the meetings, a ministry official said.

"The Red Cross Society in North Korea approached its counterpart in Japan, requesting the meetings," the official said.

Ties between the two countries have long been strained, though they periodically try to resume dialogue with the ultimate -- and so far elusive -- goal of establishing formal diplomatic relations.

Officials from the two Red Cross societies last met in August 2012 and this led to the talks by government officials in November of that year.

They had planned to meet again in December 2012 but that was cancelled after Pyongyang declared its plan to launch a missile.

Red Cross officials will discuss on-and-off visits by Japanese nationals to the graves of family members who died in North Korea decades ago or missions to collect their remains, the Red Cross official said.

One of the thorniest issues between Tokyo and Pyongyang is the fate of Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s.

It is not clear if government officials will discuss that in the upcoming talks, the ministry official said.

"The meetings are scheduled to discuss the Red Cross mission," he said.

Tokyo continues to want further answers regarding the abducted citizens amid suspicions in Japan that Pyongyang has failed to provide all the information it has.

Secretive North Korea admitted in 2002 its agents kidnapped Japanese to help train spies by teaching Japanese language and culture, and later allowed five of them and their families to return home.

It said another eight died, though many in Japan hold out hope they remain alive. There are also suspicions that Pyongyang's agents abducted more Japanese than was admitted.

Japan said North Korea agreed to reopen investigations into the fate of abducted Japanese when the two sides met in 2008.

From a security standpoint, Japan also remains wary of North Korea's past ballistic missile tests over its territory or aimed at its airspace as well as underground nuclear experiments in 2006, 2009 and 2013 and threats of more.

North Korea, meanwhile, craves trade with Japan yet blasts its military alliance with the United States, colonisation of the Korean peninsula in the first half of the 20th century and treatment of ethnic Koreans in Japan.

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