N. Korea launches committee to investigate Japanese abductions

SEOUL, July 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea launched a special committee Friday to investigate the fate of Japanese nationals abducted by the North's agents decades ago, Pyongyang's state media said.

In 2002, North Korea admitted to the kidnapping of 13 Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. The North then let five of them return home in 2002 but said eight others had died.

But Japanese officials believe more people have been abducted and are still alive in the country. The abductions were widely believed to be aimed at training spies on the Japanese language and customs.

"The DPRK organized the 'Special Investigation Committee,' which will start an all-inclusive and comprehensive investigation into all Japanese residing in the DPRK from July 4, 2014, under an agreement reached between the governments of the DPRK and Japan," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in an English-language dispatch.

The DPRK is the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The announcement came a day after Japan officially decided to lift its bilateral sanctions on North Korea, imposed in 2006 following Pyongyang's nuclear activities.

In a bilateral meeting held in Beijing on Tuesday, the two countries made a rare agreement to resolve the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by or held in North Korea in a repatriation-for-compensation deal.

"The authority of the committee is that it will be invested with a special mandate from the National Defense Commission of the DPRK to investigate all institutions and mobilize relevant institutions and persons concerned for the investigation any time when necessary," the report said, highlighting the special investigative power given from the all-powerful defense commission.

The investigation committee is composed of four panels each dealing with the remains of Japanese, remaining Japanese and Japanese spouses, abducted Japanese and missing Japanese, the news wire said, adding that So Tae-ha, counselor for security of the defense commission, will chair the newly launched committee.

"The investigation will be conducted by way of holding interview, hearing testimony and touring the relevant field," the North noted, saying that people from the Japanese side will be allowed to visit the country "to ensure objectivity and transparency of the investigation."

The progress in the Pyongyang-Tokyo agreement, however, has drawn concerns from Seoul and other neighbors as the compensation deal is feared to compromise the trilateral cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, aimed at denuclearizing North Korea.

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