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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) _ In an astonishing concession at a summit with Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il confirmed Tuesday that North Korean spies kidnapped Japanese citizens decades ago, and said at least four are still alive.

Ending years of denials, Kim admitted about a dozen Japanese were kidnapped by North Korean agents, said it was ``regrettable and would never happen again,'' and added that those responsible would be punished.

Kim's comments opened the way for Japan and North Korea to begin long-stalled talks toward establishing diplomatic ties. Kim and Koizumi announced in a joint statement the talks would resume in October.