North Korea to 'deepen' probe into kidnapped Japanese: PM Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo on Oct 30, 2014 after he met with a Japanese envoy who visited North Korea. Junichi Ihara, who heads the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceania Affairs B
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo on Oct 30, 2014 after he met with a Japanese envoy who visited North Korea. Junichi Ihara, who heads the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceania Affairs Bureau, visited Pyongyang for talks centered on Pyongyang's investigation into the Cold War kidnappings of Japanese citizens. -- PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday that North Korea had told a delegation from Tokyo it would "deepen" an investigation into the Cold War kidnapping of Japanese citizens, according to a report.

"The North Korean side showed a policy to Japan that it will deepen (its) investigation from a new angle regardless of past investigations' results," Kyodo news agency quoted Abe as saying.

Japan's leader addressed reporters after diplomats returned from a four-day visit to Pyongyang - the first official Japanese delegation to the North in a decade.

Junichi Ihara, who heads the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceania Affairs Bureau, lead the group, which also included police and other experts.

The visit came after Tokyo eased sanctions against the secretive state in July when it pledged to revisit the abductions in the 1970s and 1980s by North Korean agents.

Tokyo believes dozens of people were snatched to train the North's spies in Japanese language and customs.

In 2002, North Korea admitted that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens to train its spies.

Five of the abductees returned home, but Pyongyang said - without producing credible evidence - that the eight others had died.

That claim provoked uproar in Japan, where there are suspicions that the actual number of abductees could reach into the hundreds.

Tokyo and Pyongyang have no formal diplomatic ties, partially because of what Japan says is the North's unwillingness to come clean over the issue.

Japanese officials had expected a report on details of North Korea's probe around September, but Pyongyang recently said it would be unable to supply substantial information in that timeline.

The Kyodo report also cited Abe quoting North Korea's investigation committee as telling the Japanese delegation that it will "thoroughly investigate special organisations" over their involvement in the abductions.

The kidnappings are an ever-present political issue in Japan where families of the missing have repeatedly called on the international community to push Pyongyang to release their loved ones.

A UN-mandated investigation issued a searing report in February describing a litany of rights abuses in North Korea, including the abductions of an estimated 200,000 foreign nationals.

Most of them were South Koreans left stranded after the 1950-1953 Korean War, but hundreds of others from around the world have since been taken or disappeared while visiting the country.

Citizens of at least 12 countries are believed to have been snatched along with Japanese taken to train North Korean spies, the report said.

Kyodo said Abe "vowed to do (his) utmost in resolving the abduction issue".