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N. Korean missiles fired to counter U.S.-S. Korea drills: lawmakers


North Korea recently fired missiles into the Sea of Japan to counter upcoming military exercises between South Korea and the United States, not to send a message to Japan, a group of Japanese opposition lawmakers said Monday following a visit to Pyongyang.

"We asked if the missiles were fired because of Japan. They said that wasn't the case," lawmaker Taro Yamada told reporters at Beijing's international airport on his return from North Korea, where he and other legislators met with veteran North Korean diplomat Kang Sok Ju.

He said Kang, who has strong influence over Pyongyang's foreign policy, described the launches as "countermeasures" against the annual South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises, which are scheduled to start Wednesday.

Pyongyang has launched a number of rockets and guided missiles off its east coast over the past several weeks, firing two as recently as Sunday.

Yamada traveled to North Korea as part of a delegation led by Diet member and ex-pro wrestler Antonio Inoki, who visited the country in preparation for a wrestling exhibition to be held in Pyongyang in August. Inoki has traveled to North Korea almost 30 times since 1994.

Naoto Sakaguchi, who also joined the trip, said the North Koreans told the group that they are "working with all their might" to resolve the remaining questions surrounding the fates of Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 80s.

After returning to Japan, Inoki told a press conference at Tokyo's Haneda airport that Kang "displayed confidence regarding progress on the issue of the abductions of Japanese nationals."

The lawmakers met with Kang three times and exchanged views on Pyongyang's special committee to probe the abduction issue and Japan's easing of unilateral sanctions on North Korea.

The legislators did not, however, receive any updates on the investigation, which was reopened following talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang in Stockholm in May.