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Japan, N. Korea Hold Meetings

August 18, 2002

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TOKYO (AP) _ Japanese and North Korean officials launched a two-day meeting in Pyongyang Sunday _ a rare, if tepid, sign of rapprochement between the two countries, who begin official normalization talks later this month.

The Japanese delegation _ which includes three members from the Red Cross Society and two officials from the Foreign Ministry _ are expected to address the thorny issue of alleged kidnappings by North Korean agents of Japanese nationals, Red Cross spokesman Yasuo Tanaka said.

Tokyo claims that Pyongyang kidnapped at least 11 Japanese nationals during the 1970s and 80s to train them as North Korean agents.

North Korea denies the allegation and says its Red Cross is searching for the Japanese as missing persons.

``We are expecting the Japanese delegation to propose tracing services to help locate the missing persons,″ Tanaka said.

Red Cross talks are a crucial link between the two countries, which never established diplomatic relations following the North’s founding in 1948, but who harbor decades of tension.

Top-level dialogue between the two nations stalled in October 2000 over the kidnapping allegations and North Korea’s demands that Japan apologize for its 1910-45 colonization of the Korea.

Last month, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and her North Korean counterpart Paek Nam Sun agreed to resume normalization talks at the first meeting in two years between the nations’ top diplomats. The talks will be held Aug. 25-26 in Pyongyang.

But Japan has said repeatedly that it will not normalize ties until the abduction issue is settled.

The two delegations are headed by Hiroshi Higashiura, international division chief of the Japanese Red Cross Society, and North Korean counterpart Ri Ho Rim. Japanese Foreign Ministry officials Shigekazu Sato and Kenji Hidamatsu are also attending the meeting scheduled to end Monday afternoon.

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