October 22, 2014 / 2:58 AM / in 3 years

Japan team heading to North Korea to pressure it on abductees, PM says

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan is sending officials to reclusive North Korea to keep up pressure for an investigation into the fate of its citizens kidnapped decades ago to train spies, the prime minister said on Wednesday.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga attends a news conference at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo May 29, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Japan eased some sanctions on North Korea in July in return for the North reopening its probe into the status of the abduction victims and had expected an initial report by now.

But Pyongyang said last month there were no details to report and invited Japanese officials to visit for an update.

The meetings in Pyongyang on Oct 28-29 will take place despite objections by some of the abductees’ families, who remain sceptical about the North’s sincerity.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose government suffered a blow on Monday when two ministers resigned and who has made the emotive issue a priority, said the benefits of the visit outweighed the risks.

Pyongyang admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens, with five abductees and their families later returned to Japan. Japan wants to know about the fate of the eight others, who Pyongyang has said have died, and police suspect that as many as 860 may have been kidnapped in all.

“We have said all along that North Korea must solve this issue or it has no future. This underlies any dialogue, and at this point the dialogue has just begun,” Abe said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga downplayed expectations for the visit at a news conference earlier in the day, saying that it was unclear if much new information would emerge but that reiterating Japan’s stance was essential.

The North, already under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and rocket programmes, promised to reopen the investigation in 2008, but never followed through.

It also reneged on promises made in multilateral talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programme and declared the negotiations had ended.

Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Antoni Slodkowski,; Editing by Nick Macfie

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