Channel NewsAsia

Japan, North Korea to hold new talks on abductions

Japan said on Wednesday it would hold another round of talks with North Korea next week to check progress in Pyongyang's promised investigation into the fate of Japanese citizens abducted during the Cold War.

TOKYO: Japan said on Wednesday it would hold another round of talks with North Korea next week to check progress in Pyongyang's promised investigation into the fate of Japanese citizens abducted during the Cold War.

The North has promised to use the July 1 meeting in Beijing to "explain about the organisation, composition and persons in charge" of a committee it has set up to reinvestigate the abductions in the 1970s and 1980s, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

"The government for its part wants to firmly assess the contents of such explanations," he said, adding that the committee should be authorised to investigate all branches of North Korea's regime.

The meeting will be held nearly a month after Tokyo announced it would ease sanctions against North Korea if the secretive state reinvestigated the abduction cases, an issue that conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has worked for years to solve.

Japan has said the investigation must be substantive and credible before it lifts its unilateral sanctions.

Vice foreign minister Akitaka Saiki, the ministry's top bureaucrat, and Junichi Ihara, the head of Asian and Oceanian affairs, visited Abe Wednesday. Ihara is Japan's chief negotiator on the issue.

The deal in May between Japan and the North was seen as a major breakthrough in a highly strained relationship, and the most positive engagement between Pyongyang and the outside world in many months.

But it was also seen as a gamble for Abe, who rose to national prominence because of his focus on the kidnapping issue and his tough stance on North Korea.

Some analysts have warned that Pyongyang, under strict international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes, might be trying to lure Tokyo into a warmer relationship, possibly alienating Washington and Seoul.

There has been speculation that Abe may visit Pyongyang as part of efforts to ensure the promised probe goes ahead as Japan wants.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens to train its spies in Japanese language and customs.

Five of the abductees returned home but Pyongyang said -- without producing credible evidence -- that the eight others had died, provoking an uproar in Japan.

The subject is highly charged in Japan, where there are suspicions that perhaps even hundreds of others were taken.

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia