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Japan-North Korea Restart Stalled Talks Sounding Positive - 2002-04-29

Officials from North Korea and Japan met Monday in Beijing to restart stalled talks on missing Japanese citizens and on other humanitarian issues.

Red Cross officials from Japan and North Korea ended their first day of talks in Beijing sounding positive in public, but not announcing any real progress on the issues at hand.

The meeting, which is scheduled to continue Tuesday, was organized through the International Red Cross because the two countries have no formal ties on a diplomatic level.

On top of the agenda is the fate of 11 Japanese citizens Tokyo says were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s in order to teach its spies about Japan. North Korea has consistently denied any involvement and the issue halted previous talks on normalization of relations between the two countries.

North Korea agreed to discuss what it called "those missing" during the talks, but has also asked that Tokyo investigate the cases of 259 Koreans who disappeared during Japan's 1910 to 1945 occupation of Korea. The 259 North Koreans in question were brought to Japan as forced laborers along with thousands of others.

Tokyo also wants to discuss the fate of about two thousand Japanese women who live in North Korea with their Korean spouses. Tokyo wants the women to be able to visit their homeland if they wish it.

Pyongyang's willingness to negotiate is seen as a sign that North Korea is interested in re-establishing ties with other countries. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il halted contacts with the United States and its allies, Japan and South Korea, after President Bush took office in January 2001.

But earlier this month Mr. Kim told a visiting South Korean envoy that exchanges with Seoul would resume and that contacts with the United States and Japan would be possible in the near future.