Japan and North Korea hold first talks since 2012

BEIJING (AFP) - Japan and North Korean Red Cross and government officials met on Monday for the first time since 2012 for what Pyongyang called a "productive" dialogue.

After discussions in the northern Chinese city of Shenyang, the two sides agreed to hold more rounds of talks about the possible repatriation of the remains of Japanese nationals who died in the North during World War II.

The current meeting is set to last three days.

"The two sides reached an understanding that it is necessary for them to meet continually in order to solve the question of the remains," said the lead North Korean delegate Ri Ho Rim, according to Japan's Jiji Press.

"The talks were held in an earnest atmosphere and were productive," Mr Ri said.

Japan colonised Korea from 1910-45.

Japanese counterpart Osamu Tasaka said "the two sides will hold another round of talks involving Red Cross and government officials".

Diplomats from the two countries attended Monday's talks along with the Red Cross officials.

"Both North Korean and Japanese sides reached common ground that we need to continue to meet in the future to resolve the issue of the remains of Japanese," Mr Ri was quoted by South Korea's Yonhap news agency as saying.

"This round of talks becomes more important as government officials from the two nations attended."

Officials from the two Red Cross societies last met in August 2012 and that meeting led to talks by government officials in November of that year.

They had planned to meet again in December 2012 but the plan was cancelled after Pyongyang announced its plan to launch a long-range missile.

One of the thorniest issues between Tokyo and Pyongyang is the fate of Japanese citizens who were kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s to train its spies.

But it was unclear if the issue would be discussed in this week's talks.