North Korea, Japan agree terms for abduction probe
Friday, 15 August 2008

Tokyo,Aug 13 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - North Korea and Japan have agreed terms for a new investigation into Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese people in the 1970s and 1980s, officials said, opening the way for Tokyo to lift some travel sanctions.

The deal, hammered out early Wednesday after two days of talks in China, would see North Korea complete the investigation in the next few months, with Japanese given access to documents, interviews and to related sites to verify the results, an official at Japan's foreign ministry said.

Once an investigation committee started work, Japan would allow chartered flights between the two countries and lift restrictions on visits between the two countries, he said.

"I think it's a step forward that we were able to reach an agreement on fully investigating the issue again," Japanese negotiator Akitaka Saiki told reporters.

Resolving the abduction feud would be a step towards Japan and North Korea normalizing relations for the first time since World War Two, opening the way for large amounts of Japanese aid to Pyongyang as part of efforts to curb its nuclear weapons ambitions.

North Korea made it clear it wanted the row to end.

"If the agreement is not acted upon... then everything will break down. If that happens, we will also take necessary measures," North Korean negotiator Song Il Ho told reporters.

The dispute over the fate of 17 Japanese abducted to help train spies in Japan's language and culture is an emotional subject for many Japanese and a major obstacle to establishing diplomatic ties between the two wary neighbors.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents had abducted 13 Japanese, including a 13-year-old girl, Megumi Yokota, snatched on her way home from school in 1977.

The admission sparked outrage in Japan. Five of the abductees returned home that year but Pyongyang says the others, including Yokota, are dead.

Tokyo wants more information about those eight and four others it says were also kidnapped, and wants any survivors sent home. Families campaigning for missing loved ones say many others may have been taken.

"I would like for them to be cautious and make sure they won't fall into North Korea's trap," said Shigeo Iizuka, a family member of an abductee told NHK television.

Japan, along with China, Russia, the United States and South Korea, has been negotiating with North Korea to end its nuclear weapons ambitions.

As part of that process, Washington is preparing to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move many in Japan fear would lessen Tokyo's chances of settling the feud over the abductions.

Washington delayed the delisting past its original Monday deadline, saying that North Korea could only come off the list when it produced a robust verification plan.

Tokyo insists it will not provide energy aid as part of a multilateral deal aimed at ending the secretive communist state's nuclear programs unless the abduction issue is settled.

Japan imposed sanctions, including a ban on North Korean imports, in 2006 after the secretive communist state conducted a nuclear test and test-launched ballistic missiles.

Japan said in June it would lift some sanctions after North Korea promised to reopen the probe, but later said it wanted verification to ensure Pyongyang would keep its pledge.

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