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Japan May Not Let N. Korea Ferry Leave Tuesday as Scheduled


A controversial North Korean ferry docked in Japan may not be permitted to depart on schedule Tuesday. Japanese officials say they have found safety problems that must be corrected before the vessel can leave.

After a day of unprecedented inspections by an army of officials from various Japanese agencies, the crew of the Mangyongbong 92 was informed their North Korean ferry failed safety inspections.

The vessel's scheduled Tuesday departure could be delayed. A Transportation Ministry spokesman says five safety hazards were discovered, and they must be fixed before the vessel can set out again.

Japanese media reported the ship was carrying about 34 passengers and 38 tons of cargo. It is scheduled to take back about 200 ethnic-Korean residents of Japan and goods to North Korea. Officials say they found no problems with the outbound cargo, mainly clothes, food, appliances, and used automobiles.

The ferry, the only direct passenger link between North Korea and Japan, is on its first visit to this country in seven months.

Japanese officials allege the vessel previously has been used as a conduit for drug smuggling, illegal cash transfers and espionage.

The Mangyongbong came under suspicion earlier this year, when two alleged North Korean defectors testified in the U.S. Congress that it had ferried parts used for Pyongyang's missile program from Japan.

Opposition to the ship also prompted several anti-North Korean incidents around Japan during the weekend. Japanese police defused two bombs planted by suspected rightists near a North Korean-linked bank and a building in the city of Fukuoka.

At the Niigata port, the ship was greeted by shouts of "Go back home" from a noisy group of supporters and families of Japanese kidnapped by the Stalinist nation during the Cold War era. Five of the kidnapped victims were allowed to return to Japan last year, but their children and the husband of one remain in North Korea.

The Mangyongbong's contentious port call occurred a few days before talks begin in Beijing to attempt to resolve the 10 month crisis surrounding North Korea's nuclear programs. The talks will involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.