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Japan seeks return of its citizens held by North Korea

TOKYO - Japan is determined to secure the return of all its citizens abducted by North Korea, a cabinet minister said on Monday, warning Pyongyang to take seriously its promise over report on the emotive issue.


"The Japanese people will not accept a half-baked response," Keiji Furuya, minister in charge of the abduction issue, told a news conference. The government will seek to bring all abductees back regardless of whether they have been officially recognised as abducted, he said.


Japan in July eased some sanctions on North Korea after it agreed to reopen a probe on the fate of Japanese citizens it kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies. North Korea admitted in 2002 to kidnapping Japanese citizens, five abductees have since returned to Japan. Pyongyang had said the remaining eight were dead and that the issue was closed, but Japan pressed for more information about their fate and others that Tokyo believes were also kidnapped.


Japan's National Police Agency estimates as many as 860 of the nation's missing persons may have been abducted by North Korea. The government's official abductee estimate is 17. Furuya, chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, said that North Korea would be in an untenable position if it takes an insincere attitude in a report expected this month. He declined to elaborate.


He said Japan would not let the abduction issue drive a wedge between it and the United States over efforts to curb North Korea's nuclear and ballistic-missile programmes, saying Japan had gained the understanding of State Department officials on the issue.


"For the Japanese people, the abduction issue is a tremendous concern," he said. "As a result of our being able to start negotiations on this issue with North Korea, the end result might be that we would be able to find an opening so that we could resolve the other outstanding issues." Furuya sought to play down Japan's easing of sanctions, noting that these were additional measures, separate from those imposed by Japan and other UN members after Pyongyang's first nuclear test in 2006 that prohibit UN member states from arms trade with Pyongyang and from financial transactions that facilitate such trade.

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