Japan and North Korea are holding talks in Pyongyang about the fate of Japanese who were kidnapped by agents of the communist state. This is the third round of talks on what happened to Japanese who were abducted and taken to North Korea in the 1970's and 1980's. The meeting starts Tuesday and continues through Friday.
Mitoji Yabunaka, head of the Foreign Ministry's Asian Affairs Bureau, leads the Japanese delegation.
Mr. Yabunaka says unless the issue is resolved, discussions on normalizing relations between the two countries cannot begin.
Japan wants to learn the fate of 10 citizens who Tokyo considers abduction victims. North Korea is thought to have snatched them to teach its spies the Japanese language and customs.
North Korea has said most of the 10 died and it has no information on the others. Five other abductees were returned to Japan two years ago.
Hours before the talks began, about 20 relatives of the missing rallied in front of the prime minister's office in Tokyo. Among them was Shigeru Yokota, whose daughter Megumi was abducted at the age of 13. Mr. Yokota tells supporters the first two rounds of talks have not been fruitful. He says substantial progress must be made this time.
North Korea says Megumi Yokota committed suicide in 1993, leaving behind a husband and a daughter.
The families and some politicians are pushing for Japan to impose economic sanctions on North Korea if there is no progress this week.
To demonstrate its seriousness about the talks, Japan has dispatched a 19-member delegation, including identification experts from the National Police Agency.
During a meeting in Pyongyang in May, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il promised Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that his government would begin a new investigation into the fate of the 10 still listed as missing.
Also Tuesday, Mr. Yabunaka said there are plans to hold separate meetings this week about the stalled multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons development. Japan, the United States, South Korea, China and Russia, have been pushing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.