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Japan, North Korea Still Without Agreement on Abductions - 2004-05-05


Japanese and North Korean negotiators have wrapped up talks, without indicating whether the families of Japanese citizens Pyongyang once held captive will be allowed to go to Japan. Those talks are only part of the diplomatic activity involving North Korea.

Japanese diplomats concluded two days of talks with North Korean officials, the first discussions between the two countries since February.

The delegation says the talks in Beijing focused on persuading Pyongyang to hand over the families of five repatriated Japanese abductees.

One of Japan's chief negotiators, Mitoji Yabunaka, told reporters, the talks were intensive and in depth. But he gave no indication that a breakthrough was achieved.

Tokyo says the abductees' families must be allowed to go to Japan before there can be moves toward normalizing ties with North Korea or granting the impoverished state more aid.

Mr. Yabunaka said the two countries did agree to hold more talks.

North Korea has admitted kidnapping several Japanese citizens over the past three decades to use in training its spies. It says only five are still alive, and allowed them to return to Japan in 2002, but without their children, and in one case, an American husband.

A spokesman for the families, Shigeru Yokota, said his government needs to increase the pressure on Pyongyang.

Mr. Yokota said the latest talks appear to have been a waste of time. He says Japan needs to take a tougher stance, if any progress is to be made.

North Korea indicates it wants the five abductees to go to Pyongyang to pick up their family members.

Also Wednesday, a South Korean delegation in Pyongyang asked North Korea to soften its stance over its nuclear weapons programs. They violate North Korea's past pledges to be nuclear free, and five nations - the United States, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia - are trying to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

The North's delegation replied by calling on the United States and South Korea to end their joint military exercises, which Pyongyang describes as a rehearsal for an invasion of North Korea.

South Korea's negotiators responded by saying the exercises are defensive, not offensive.

The South also proposed urgent high-level military talks to discuss how to avoid naval skirmishes along the two countries' disputed sea border. Such clashes often happen during the crab catching season in May and June, as fishing boats from both countries move across the western maritime border.

There is concern in the South that the clashes could hamper the effort to peacefully resolve the nuclear dispute. A third round of six-way talks on the nuclear issue is expected to be held in Beijing before July. The nations involved are scheduled to hold preliminary talks next week.

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