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Japan, N. Korea to Discuss Support for Atomic Bomb Survivors - 2002-03-27

A Japanese minister is expected to meet with North Korean officials in a few days to discuss Japanese support for survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This would be the first ministerial meeting between the two countries in almost two years.

Japanese government sources say that Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi is preparing to go to Singapore for a meeting with his North Korean counterpart. The meeting, which was proposed by Pyongyang in December, is seen here as a possible sign that North Korea is interested in reopening official contacts with Japan.

The issue of North Korea's alleged abductions of 11 Japanese people in the 1970s and 1980s has stopped the former foes from moving forward on setting up diplomatic ties. Tokyo has said that the kidnapping issue must be resolved, but North Korea denies any involvement in the alleged abductions.

In a small step forward, the North Korean Red Cross said last week it would reopen an investigation into the whereabouts of what it calls the missing people.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that Japan cannot ignore the abduction issue. However, he said that North Korea must not be isolated from the rest of the world and that Tokyo wants to cooperate with Washington and Seoul to open up a dialogue with the communist North.

The aim of the Singapore meeting, tentatively set for Saturday or Sunday, is to provide health care funds to overseas victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Currently, Japan only compensates bombing victims who live in Japan. But the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry plans to extend aid to victims now living abroad.

More than 900 North Koreans survived the bombings. At the time, Japan had colonized the Korean Peninsula, and the Koreans were brought to Japan as forced laborers or to serve in the Japanese military. The funds from Tokyo would help cover the costs of their medical care.