Japan vows no aid to N. Korea without kidnappings answers

NEW YORK (AFP) - Even if North Korea gives up its nuclear arms, Japan would not resume aid to the isolated state until it clears up abduction cases dating back more than three decades, a minister said on Friday.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has revived strong calls for North Korea to account for the kidnapping since he took office in December.

The "firm" stance was stressed by the minister responsible for pressing the case, Mr Keiji Furuya, during a visit to New York.

Mr Furuya, minister of state for the abduction issue, told a public meeting that the kidnappings of at least 17 Japanese during the 1970s and 1980s were "acts of terrorism" by North Korea.

Japan has felt particularly threatened by North Korea's recent long-range rocket test and nuclear weapons test, which have brought tougher United Nations (UN) sanctions.

But Mr Furuya said that even if North Korea relented on the weapons, Japan would not help finance the huge aid projects that diplomats say North Korea wants and some countries are ready to consider.

"I believe it will be difficult for Japan to actively contribute to the large-scale humanitarian aid which would be resumed immediately after such developments, as long as there are no significant developments on the abduction issue," he said.

Japan held its first informal talks with North Korea for four years in November. But the contacts were suspended when the North started threatening to stage banned weapons tests.

Kim Jong Il, father of North Korea's current youthful ruler Kim Jong UN, admitted in 2002 that his country had kidnapped Japanese.

Five Japanese were subsequently allowed to return home, but the North said eight others had died, and denied knowledge of others that Japan said were kidnapped to help train North Korea agents.

Japanese officials say they believe many of the hostages are still alive.

The men and women, who were as young as 13 when seized, remain a national cause and Mr Abe has increased the ministerial committee on the abductions.

He raises the cases in meetings with all foreign leaders. A police service set up to follow leads into the kidnappings has been reinforced.

There is "a firm resolution of the nation" to find out the fate of the Japanese in North Korea, said Mr Furuya.