Abe announces partial lifting of N Korea sanctions

Abe announces partial lifting of N Korea sanctions
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to media at his official residence in Tokyo.

TOKYO - The government has decided to lift some of its sanctions against North Korea, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Thursday morning, in response to Pyongyang's report to Tokyo on the makeup of a special committee that will reinvestigate Japanese abductees.

The government said the special investigative committee to be set up by North Korea has been given by the National Defence Commission a "special authority" to investigate all Pyongyang's organisations. The Commission is headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, its first chairman.

The government judged that the planned special investigative committee with such a strong authority will be able to conduct an effective reinvestigation into the abduction issue.

North Korea will establish the special investigative committee on Friday and a decision to relax sanctions will be formalized at a Cabinet meeting on the same day.

"I have judged that an unprecedented system under which such organisations as the National Defence Commission and the State Security Department, which can make national decisions, will come to the fore has been established," Abe said at the Prime Minister's Office. "In accordance with the principle of 'action for action,' we will lift some of the [sanction] measures."

"This is only the start," Abe said, stressing that the government will do its utmost to fully resolve the abduction issue.

Earlier in the day, the government held a ministerial meeting at the government's headquarters for the abduction issue as well as a meeting of the National Security Council.

The government will lift the following unilateral sanctions:

-Travel restrictions

-Regulations on remittances to North Korea exceeding 3 million yen (S$36,630), and cash taken to the country in excess of 100,000 yen. Both must currently be reported to the Japanese government.

-The ban on the entry of North Korean-registered ships for humanitarian purposes.

If the sanctions are lifted, senior officials of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), including Chairman Ho Jong Man, will be allowed to travel to North Korea and return to Japan.

Meanwhile, the Mangyongbong-92, a North Korean cargo-passenger ship, will still be banned from entering Japanese ports.

The special investigative committee will be headed by a councillor of the National Defence Commission.

The special investigative committee will have four subpanels to look into each of four issues: Japanese abductees, missing Japanese nationals, remains of Japanese nationals, and Japanese nationals remaining in North Korea and Japanese nationals married to North Koreans.

The committee will draw upon about 30 members from the State Security Department, the People's Security Ministry, the People's Armed Forces Ministry and other organisations. Investigations into the four issues will be carried out simultaneously.

North Korea will report the progress of its investigation to the Japanese side as needed. Pyongyang also agreed to accept the Japanese government's investigative team and other Japanese officials into the country when necessary.

At a press conference on Thursday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Japanese and North Korean governments agreed that a period from the end of summer to the beginning of autumn is desirable for the timing of the first report on the reinvestigation to Japan.

Suga, meanwhile, flatly denied a media report that North Korea presented to the Japanese side a list of Japanese nationals who still are alive in the country during a meeting of senior Japanese and North Korean Foreign Ministry officials in Beijing on Tuesday.

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