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Japan Maintains Hard Line on Issue of Citizens Abducted by North Korea - 2002-11-17

Japan is maintaining a hard line on the issue of Japanese citizens North Korea abducted decades ago, despite new threats that Pyongyang may resume its missile tests.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe says North Korea should let the children of five Japanese abductees come to Japan before Tokyo will resume deadlocked diplomatic talks with Pyongyang. He was speaking on a TV Asahi program Sunday in Tokyo.

The five abductees now visiting Japan, two married couples and a woman married to a former American soldier living in North Korea, left behind North Korean-born children.

The five returned to Japan a month ago on their first visit since being abducted more than 20 years ago to train North Korean spies. Pyongyang says Japan has broken a promise to return them within two weeks, and demands their immediate return. North Korea also accuses Japan of "backpedaling" on the issue of compensation for Tokyo's 1910-1945 colonial rule.

On Saturday, North Korea's official news agency said that because of what it calls Japan's broken promises, Pyongyang has no reason to stick to its moratorium on missile tests. At a summit in September, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi the moratorium would be extended beyond 2003.

North Korea shocked the world in 1998 when it fired a missile over Japanese territory. Pyongyang later said it would not hold more tests until at least next year.

The missile question has taken on new importance since the United States last month revealed that North Korea admitted it is trying build nuclear weapons. The program violates a 1994 accord in which Pyongyang agreed to give up its nuclear program. The United States says North Korea must immediately give up the weapons effort.

At the September summit, North Korea and Japan agreed to resume talks on establishing diplomatic ties. The two countries have never had formal relations.

The talks now appear to be stalled, in part because Pyongyang is resisting Japan's request for more information on other abductees. Tokyo also is pressing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons effort.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Il admitted the country had abducted at least 13 Japanese. North Korean officials say eight of them are now dead, a claim that has angered many Japanese citizens. Some Japanese groups say the North actually may have snatched as many as 60 people.