Japan, North Korea to start bilateral talks after one-year lapse

Solving the cases of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s was at the top of Tokyo's agenda Wednesday ahead of its first full talks with the communist government in a year. Japan's delegation, led by the Foreign Ministry's Asia specialist, Akitaka Saiki, headed to Beijing on Wednesday for what Tokyo says are open-ended talks set to start Thursday.

While Japanese officials say they also want to discuss the North's nuclear weapons and missile programs, the unsolved decades-old abduction cases were Tokyo's first order of business. Later Wednesday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters Japan would keep up efforts to get the North to come clean on both issues.

North Korea in 2002 admitted to abducting 13 Japanese citizens and allowed five of them to return to Japan, claiming that the other eight victims had died.

But Tokyo says the North has never provided conclusive proof of the deaths, and many in Japan suspect some of the victims may still be alive. Japan also says there are at least several other cases of suspected abductions that North Korea has not properly investigated. A Foreign Ministry official in Tokyo said the Japanese delegation will press North Korea to provide more information about the missing Japanese and to hand over any survivors. Tokyo is also ready to discuss unresolved issues related to Japan's wartime actions, the official said on condition of anonymity under ministry rules.

Kaoru Hasuike, one of the five, met the two men in a camp 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Pyongyang in the mid-1980s, NHK said, citing unidentified sources. A.M.

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