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Japan to ease N Korea sanctions after abductions probe starts

Japan said Thursday it would ease sanctions against North Korea after the secretive state agreed to reinvestigate the kidnapping of Japanese nationals to train spies, in a significant breakthrough for testy relations.

TOKYO: Japan said Thursday it would ease sanctions against North Korea after the secretive state agreed to reinvestigate the kidnapping of Japanese nationals to train spies, in a significant breakthrough for testy relations.

The announcement comes after three days of talks between the two sides in Sweden, and marks the most positive engagement between Pyongyang and the outside world in many months.

"As a result of the Japan-North Korea talks, the North Korean side promised to the Japanese side that it will make a comprehensive and thorough investigation" into confirmed and suspected abductions, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.

"In keeping with the promise, it will set up a special commission for the investigation."

In return, Tokyo has agreed to ease some of the stinging sanctions it has levelled at the unpredictable regime, over years of mistrust.

"Japan has decided to lift special restrictions on travel by people, reporting requirements on remittances... as well as the ban on North Korea-registered vessels entering Japanese ports for humanitarian purposes," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

North Korea outraged Japan when it admitted more than a decade ago that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in Japanese language and customs.

Five of the abductees were allowed to return to Japan but Pyongyang has insisted, without producing solid evidence, that the eight others are dead.

The issue is a highly-charged one in Japan, where there are suspicions that perhaps dozens of other people were taken.

"Our mission will never end until the day comes when families of all abduction victims are able to embrace their children with their own arms," Abe said.

"We have tackled the problem with this determination and we hope that this will be the first step toward an overall solution."

While relations with South Korea remain testy, Pyongyang's approach to its dealings with Japan appears to have softened in recent months, especially on the emotive issue of the abductions.

In March, North Korea allowed the daughter of a Japanese woman who was kidnapped in the 1970s and later died to travel to Mongolia to meet her grandparents, who had flown in from Japan.

The two sides held a three-day meeting in Stockholm this week, building on official talks in China in March.

Suga said North Korea promised that the probe will cover all kidnap victims -- those who are suspected of being abducted by North Korea, as well as the whereabouts of Japanese nationals who died in the region around 1945, when World War II ended.

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