TOKYO - North Korea is ready to provide Japan with initial findings from a special investigating team that looked into the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang's agents decades ago, Kyodo news agency quoted a North Korean diplomat as saying.
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 eased some sanctions on the reclusive state in July in return for Pyongyang's reopening of a probe into the abductees. "What can be said is that we are conducting the investigation not only in a specific area, but all concurrently in a scientific and objective manner," Kyodo quoted Song Il-ho, North Korea's top negotiator in talks with Japan, as saying in an interview in Pyongyang on Wednesday. "We are fully prepared (to release the first report)." Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said the initial report will likely come out sometime between late summer and early autumn.
Asked about Song's reported comments, Suga told a news conference on Thursday: "We have no confirmation. Negotiations are ongoing through the Beijing embassy ... We strongly demand that North Korea conduct the investigation with sincerity and report all the findings honestly." In the interview, Song voiced hope that Japan will further remove sanctions against North Korea as the probe advances, Kyodo said.
In July, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government lifted travel curbs to and from North Korea and ended restrictions on the amount of money that can be sent or brought to the impoverished North without notifying Japanese authorities. It also allowed port calls by North Korean ships for humanitarian purposes.
Tokyo, however, has a ban in place on exports to and imports from North Korea, on flights to Japan of chartered planes from North Korea and on port calls by North Korean ships for non-humanitarian purposes.