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Japan, N. Korea To Meet Again

April 7, 2000

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) _ Japan and North Korea agreed to meet in Tokyo next month and expressed optimism, but reported no progress today after their first round of talks in eight years about establishing diplomatic relations.

Both sides repeated their demands that progress be made on issues that have long divided the nations before there is any chance of creating the first formal ties between them.

The North demanded compensation for abuses that Japan committed as colonial ruler of the Korean Peninsula decades ago, and Japan said it must receive information about 10 missing Japanese citizens who were allegedly abducted by North Korean spies in Japan more than 20 years ago.

But the negotiators were pleased that both sides had at least listened to demands they have long found controversial, even if they were not happy to hear them.

In Tokyo, Japan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said the North had shown a ``strong will″ for normalizing relations and that ``nobody could have expected these to be easy negotiations.″

``This is just the first session of the resumed negotiations,″ said the ministry’s spokesman, Chikahito Harada. ``This was only the first step.″

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said the talks were held ``in a good atmosphere.″

Earlier today, the negotiators said they are committed to establishing diplomatic links as soon as possible.

The North’s chief negotiator, Jong Thae-hwa, compared the talks to a mountain climb he made with his Japanese counterpart, Kojiro Takano, on Thursday north of Pyongyang.

``We must climb to the summit of the mountain, but now we are just at the foot,″ Jong said. Takano agreed, saying that he, too, wants to reach the top.

But the anger that North Korea still feels about Japan’s behavior as its colonial master in 1910-1945 was evident.

Addressing a group of Japanese reporters, Jong indicated that the North will continue to press Japan on the compensation issue.

``You must understand that your fathers and grandfathers subjected to us to subhuman treatment,″ Jong said.

The official North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun carried a full page of stories about the talks, with headlines such as: ``Japan must apologize and compensate for the past,″ and ``Japan’s barbaric pillaging of cultural treasures,″ referring to artworks that Japan’s colonial army allegedly stole.

Many North and South Koreans deeply resent Japan more than half a century after its harsh colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula ended. Older Koreans recall how the Japanese forced women into prostitution and men into labor camps, and banned teaching of the Korean language in schools.

Besides the talks in Tokyo in late May, the two sides said they plan to hold a third session in Beijing or another country in the near future.

In reviving its negotiations with the North, Japan hopes to help draw the Stalinist state out of its isolation and boost stability in Asia. North Korea, which has recently reached out to other countries to establish diplomatic relations, needs help from richer industrialized countries to feed its impoverished people and modernize its decaying infrastructure.

Tokyo has promised to consider resuming food aid to the North, which is suffering from a widespread famine. But Japan is still concerned about a ballistic missile that the North launched over Japan in 1998, raising security concerns across the Asia-Pacific region.

Japan also demands cooperation from the North about the Japanese citizens who were allegedly kidnapped in the 1970s to help Pyongyang train Japanese-speaking spies.

After the talks ended, Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said in Tokyo that the resolution of the alleged abductions is a prerequisite for the normalization of diplomatic relations.

``Japan cannot allow the abduction matter and other issues of concern to us to be sidestepped,″ he said.

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