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LEAD: 5 abductees to return to Japan on Tues. ahead of talks.

TOKYO, Oct. 9 Kyodo

(EDS: ADDING KOIZUMI'S COMMENTS; UPDATING GOV'T SPOKESMAN'S PRESS CONFERENCE)

Japan said Wednesday that five Japanese nationals who were abducted by North Korea in 1978 will make a homecoming trip from next Tuesday, ahead of the resumption of normalization talks between the two countries set to start Oct. 29 in Kuala Lumpur.

Japan plans to prioritize the kidnapping issue in the two-day talks, suspended since October 2000, on normalizing ties, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters.

The announcement came after Pyongyang also promised to realize the visit to Japan of the five abductees' relatives, mostly their children born in North Korea, as soon as possible, Fukuda said.

But Tokyo denied there was a scenario that the abductees' homecomings should come before the resumption of the normalization talks.

The five consist of two couples -- Yasushi Chimura, 47, and Fukie Hamamoto, 47, and Kaoru Hasuike, 45, and Yukiko Okudo, 46, -- and Hitomi Soga, a 43-year-old woman who married former U.S. soldier Robert Jenkins.

''I feel North Korea had taken (seriously) demands of the (abductees') family members'' in Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters at his office.

The government ''will do its utmost to meet demands of the relatives'' in Japan, the premier said.

The abductees' children born in North Korea will not accompany them this time, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a separate press conference.

The five had told the North Korean government their children did not want to go to Japan or were not ready to do so, according to Abe, another government spokesman.

Abe held the press conference after he and ranking bureaucrats decided to specially create a team of bureaucrats aimed at helping the five in their homecomings.

The five are expected to visit their hometowns during their one- or two-week stay in Japan, government sources said. Chimura, Hamamoto are from Fukui Prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast while Hasuike, Okudo and Soga are from Niigata Prefecture.

The five are likely to come to Japan directly from Pyongyang by a chartered airplane accompanied by North Korean Red Cross officials to Tokyo, the government sources said.

Pressed by the relatives of the abducted people to realize their return to Japan, the Japanese government had been calling on North Korea to allow them to visit.

North Korea informed Japan at the Sept. 17 summit between Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il that the five are living in the North, and that eight other Japanese nationals it abducted or lured to the country are dead.

Japan has conveyed to North Korea its intention to take up the abduction problem in the upcoming normalization talks as the top priority among a range of issues left unresolved, Fukuda said.

But North Korea has yet to agree to give priority to the kidnapping cases during the talks, he said.

The Japanese delegation in the upcoming talks will be headed by Katsunari Suzuki, an ambassador-level official who serves as representative of the Japan-North Korea normalization talks.

Japan said in a statement that it will also make efforts in the upcoming talks to agree with the North to set up a bilateral security panel to discuss such issues as North Korean spy ships, nuclear weapons and missiles.

The daughter of Megumi Yokota, one of the eight listed as dead, will not join the homecoming group, Abe said. Yokota was abducted to North Korea from Niigata in 1977 as the youngest victim in the series of kidnapping cases in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was 13 at the time.

Abe said Megumi's daughter, Kim Hye Gyong, is unlikely to visit Japan because she was not among victims of the abduction cases. Megumi's father, Shigeru Yokota, told reporters he wanted to visit North Korea to see Megumi's daughter.

Japan and North Korea started the ambassador-level normalization talks in 1991 as the top negotiation channel.

But the talks have been suspended since October 2000, when they held the 11th and last plenary session in Beijing, because of huge differences over key unresolved issues.

The pending issues included Tokyo's calls for settlement of the kidnapping cases and Pyongyang's demand Japan compensate for its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Oct 14, 2002
Words:702
Previous Article:Japan to host summit to strengthen cooperation with islands.
Next Article:Koizumi decided 'around May' to visit N. Korea.


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