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Japan Confirms Sunken Ship Was North Korean - 2002-10-04

The Japanese government says it has confirmed what it long suspected - an armed ship its Coast Guard chased in the East China Sea was indeed a North Korean vessel.

Japan says the vessel, which went down in the East China Sea after a fierce gun battle last December, was a spy ship from North Korea. Transportation Minister Chikage Ogi made the announcement Friday. Ms. Ogi says an investigation confirmed that the ship originated in North Korea.

Japanese crews salvaged the vessel from the bottom of the East China Sea inside China's exclusive economic zone. Officials say the boat contained numerous high-powered weapons, a global positioning system and more specific clues about its origin - such as a pin bearing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda says Tokyo will ask North Korea to explain the ship's mission and demand reassurances from Pyongyang that there will be no further intrusions into Japanese waters.

The findings come at a turning point in relations between Japan and North Korea, which have never had diplomatic ties. A few weeks ago, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a one-day trip to Pyongyang where Mr. Kim, the country's leader, admitted that North Korean spy ships had gone into Japanese waters. Mr. Kim said such missions would be ended. Talks on establishing diplomatic relations are set to begin later this month. However, Japanese public anger toward North Korea has been rising because of the spy ship issue as well as Pyongyang's admission that its spies abducted Japanese civilians during the 1970s and 80s.

Japan was shocked to hear from Pyongyang that eight of the abducted Japanese have since died under circumstances their relatives call bizarre.