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Tokyo Urges Search for Japanese Missing in N. Korea - 2001-12-18


Tokyo is urging North Korea to continue looking for Japanese who were allegedly kidnapped by Pyongyang. The Japanese government is concerned by North Korea's announcement that it will stop searching for the missing Japanese.

Japan has long maintained that the North Korean government likely has information about 10 people who were allegedly seized decades ago from coastal towns by North Korean agents. The issue again arose when Pyongyang's official news agency said Monday that the North Korean Red Cross would stop searching for the missing.

Japan's top government spokesman, Yasuo Fukuda, on Tuesday urged North Korea to continue the search. We deeply regret North Korea's decision, he said. We think that some of our people may have been kidnapped by the North Koreans and it is a serious problem for the security of the Japanese people. We will continue to ask North Korea to do its best on this matter.

The missing include a school girl, a cook, a security guard and three young couples. Japanese officials in the past have speculated that they were kidnapped to train North Korean spies in the Japanese language and culture.

Japan's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, reports that North Korea's decision to suspend the search may be retaliation for Japan's recent crackdown on a credit union with ties to the North. One of the credit union's senior executives has been arrested on fraud charges.

The Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on Monday said Japan was making a fuss over the matter of the missing Japanese, which it called a non-existent issue. The report said Tokyo's stance made North Koreans feel, in its words, "extremely provoked".

Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic relations and the countries regard each other as potential adversaries. At a separate news conference in Tokyo, Defense Agency Director-General Gen Nakatani says Japan is keeping a close eye on North Korea. We do not regard North Korea as an assumed enemy, said Mr. Nakatani. Having said that, however, I would say that concerning North Korea, we will very carefully and cautiously watch the trend so that we can come up with appropriate reactions.

The United States recently put North Korea on a watch list of nations considered capable of engaging in bio-terrorism.

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