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Japan-N. Korea talks flop

Mainichi Shimbun, 25 August 2000

Japan and North Korea in crucial talks on Thursday failed to bridge the gaps over long-standing issue of damages for Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula, Japanese officials said.

The North Koreans also refused to discuss the alleged abduction of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang agents, saying that the problem did not exist.

However, the two sides did agree to promote exchange programs of diplomats and business people.

Thursday's talks, which started on Tuesday in Tokyo, were the latest to be held between North Korea and Japan on normalizing diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Japanese officials, led by chief delegate Kojiro Takano, rejected the demands for an apology and compensation for the nation's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The Japanese delegation told their North Korean counterparts, led by Ambassador Jong Thae Hwa, that Japan instead was ready to provide North Korea with asset demand rights, indicating that Tokyo would handle the damages request separately from the normalization talks.

Although the North Korean delegation persisted, saying that the compensation issue is a crucial point before normalizing ties and both sides failed to narrow differences, a statement announced that the normalization talks would continue as planned.

After discussing the compensation issue, Takano presented what the Japanese team believes is one of the most important issues to be solved before normalizing ties - the alleged abduction of at least 10 Japanese nationals by Pyongyang agents in the 1970s and '80s.

We cannot ignore the abduction issue (in normalization talks, said Takano, demanding that Pyongyang start investigating the whereabouts of the abducted people.

The normalization of ties (between the two countries) cannot be carried out if we make a concession that the Japanese people would not approve of, Takano told the North Korean delegation.

As in the past, Ambassador Jong denied that North Korea abducted Japanese nationals, saying, We cannot discuss a problem that doesn't exist.

During Thursday's talks, the families of the alleged abductees were shocked to learn that the North Korean delegation refused to comply with their request to meet them, the Japanese officials said.

Despite the North Korean team's refusal to discuss the abduction issue, Pyongyang is apparently bent on continuing the normalization talks.

Japan and North Korea agreed to hold another round of meetings in Beijing in October, the officials said.