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    Mystery Still Surrounds Remains Given to Japan by N. Korea

    Japan is lodging a protest with North Korea after forensic tests confirmed that what Pyongyang said were the remains of a Japanese woman abducted by North Korean agents are actually those of someone else.

    Japanese government officials call this a major obstacle to pursuing talks on bilateral relations.

    The government on Wednesday announced that DNA analysis of cremated remains handed over by North Korea are actually those of two different people, neither of whom is Megumi Yokota.

    Ms. Yokota was kidnapped near her home by North Korean agents in 1977 at the age of 13. She was one of at least 13 Japanese abducted by North Korea during the Cold War, and Pyongyang says she killed herself in a hospital in 1994.

    Pyongyang handed over the remains as a way of promoting talks on improving North Korean-Japanese relations. Instead, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Wednesday that Japan is immediately filing a protest over the incident.

    Mr. Hosoda says this is extremely regrettable and a setback in establishing formal relations with the North. He also says Japan might stop food aid shipments to the impoverished communist state.

    Megumi Yokota's family has been leading a campaign to pressure Pyongyang for information on the abductees. They reacted to Wednesday's news with a mixture of relief and anger.

    Sakie Yokota, Megumi's mother, says she expected the forensic testing to confirm the ashes were not those of her daughter and, for that, she is relieved.

    The Yokota family says it believes that Megumi is still alive, and the fact that North Korea could not hand over her remains supports that belief.

    Mrs. Yokota says the deception shows the cruelty and brutality of the North Korean regime.

    She and her husband, Shigeru, strongly urged the Japanese government to impose immediate economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

    Shinzo Abe, acting Secretary General of Japan's governing Liberal Democratic Party, also lashed out at North Korea after the findings were made public.

    Mr. Abe says North Korea's handing over of the bogus remains is a cold-blooded and insincere act.

    Mr. Abe, who favors imposing sanctions, says there is no way Japan will establish diplomatic relations with North Korea until the abduction issue is settled.

    Five abductees returned to Japan in 2002 after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang.

    North Korea insists that eight other Japanese who were also kidnapped, including Ms. Yokota, have since died. The fate of another two that Japan says were also abducted is not known, and Pyongyang insists it has no knowledge of the pair.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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