N. Korea halts abduction probe, dissolves committee

SEOUL - The North Korean government announced Friday it would stop its investigation into the abduction of Japanese nationals, with Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency reporting that the Special Investigation Committee that was carrying out the work would be dissolved.

The investigation had been under way since July 2014.

"We clarify as follows our just stand now that Japan revealed its sinister intention," the agency reported, referring to Tokyo's decision to tighten its sanctions against Pyongyang.

"The comprehensive investigation into all the Japanese that had been under way under the intergovernmental Stockholm agreement [in May 2016] will be totally stopped," the North Korean mouthpiece said.

"The 'Special Investigation Committee' [will] be dissolved from February 12, 2016," the agency added.

A Japanese government source said Tokyo would monitor developments calmly while continuing to analyse its response to North Korea. As of Friday evening, the government had not been notified through diplomatic channels of North Korea's decision, the source said.

The government will continue to call on North Korea to investigate on the abductees, the source said.

A senior government official said Friday: "The Japanese government's position that the investigation of the abduction issue should continue has not changed. We will negotiate tenaciously."

The source indicated the declaration to halt the investigation would not actually change much, saying, "North Korea promised to reinvestigate the abduction issue, but they haven't actually been doing anything."

On Wednesday, the government strengthened its sanctions against North Korea in response to a nuclear test in January and last Sunday's test launch of a long-range ballistic missile.

The new sanctions include denying reentry to foreign residents of Japan who are engineers in nuclear- and missile-related fields and who travel to North Korea; banning remittances to North Korea, except those of ¥100,000 or less for humanitarian purposes; and barring the entry of third-country vessels that have visited North Korean ports.

The North Korean news agency said that "stronger countermeasures" will likely continue against "Japan's provocative acts of hostility." The Abe administration "has to hold full responsibilities for causing such a grave consequence," it said.

According to the agency, the Special Investigation Committee released a statement saying that by reinstating sanctions it had previously lifted and adding further ones, the Abe administration had admitted to breaking its own word.

Talks between the Japanese and North Korean governments in May 2014 in Stockholm led to an agreement to set up a committee to reinvestigate the abductees' whereabouts and other issues. The committee was composed of four subcommittees, which handled the abduction issue, missing persons, the remains of Japanese nationals, and Japanese nationals and spouses of Japanese nationals left behind in North Korea.

After the committee was created, the Japanese government lifted some of its sanctions on North Korea.

Katsunobu Kato, the minister in charge of the abduction issue, on Saturday sharply criticised North Korea's decision to suspend the investigation.

However, Kato also said the government did not consider the Stockholm agreement to be void.

"We want to continue the dialogue," he told reporters on Saturday. "We'll do our utmost to get North Korea to take concrete action so the abductees can return home as soon as possible."

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