TOKYO - Tokyo on Friday urged North Korea to continue its probe into Cold War abductions of Japanese nationals, after Pyongyang accused Japan of internationalising the issue and hinted it would halt investigations.
The Japanese government protested that it was keeping its side of a bilateral bargain made last year, when the North agreed to reinvestigate all instances in which Japanese citizens were snatched.
North Korea on Thursday criticised Tokyo's "grave political provocation and encroachment" that it said was "going beyond tolerance limit".
North Korea complained that Japan had taken the issue to the United Nations and cited recent Tokyo police action against Pyongyang-affiliated Korean leaders in Japan over the alleged illegal imports of North Korean mushrooms.
"We absolutely cannot accept the North Korean assertion and it is extremely regretable," Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary, told a regular briefing.
"We call on them to investigate the matter in an expeditious fashion, and we strongly demand that the final outcome be reported at the earliest possible time," Suga said.
Pyongyang and Tokyo struck a deal in May last year in which the secretive state agreed it would reinvestigate kidnappings.
The accord was seen as a sign of a possible thaw between two nations that do not have formal diplomatic relations and frequently exchange barbs.
North Korea outraged Japan when it admitted in 2002 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.
The North's promise to revisit the kidnapping cases was seen as a rare positive turn in its engagement with Japan, while its traditional sponsor Beijing is seen distancing itself from Pyongyang.