LEAD: Koizumi indicates Japan to keep pushing N. Korea on abductions

LEAD: Koizumi indicates Japan to keep pushing N. Korea on abductions

TOKYO, Jan. 25 Kyodo

(EDS: RECASTING)

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Tuesday suggested Japan will keep pressing North Korea to respond to Japan’s protests filed a month ago over Pyongyang’s reinvestigation into the cases of 10 missing Japanese citizens.

”The government must patiently negotiate” with North Korea, Koizumi told reporters, indicating Pyongyang has yet to respond to the Japanese protests.

”We keep urging North Korea to reply quickly” through diplomatic routes, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told reporters earlier Tuesday.

On Dec. 25, North Korea handed to Japan cremated remains Pyongyang says belong to abductee Megumi Yokota when the two countries held bilateral talks in Pyongyang.

But DNA analysis found the remains do not belong to Yokota, sparking an uproar in Japan.

North Korea said Yokota died after being abducted to the country. She was among 15 people the Japanese government recognized as having been abducted by North Korea.

Five of the 15 returned to Japan. The Japanese government said the remaining 10 are still unaccounted for.

North Korea says eight of the 10 died while the remaining two never entered its territory.

Japan urged North Korea in late December to give a clearer and more credible explanation about the fates of the 10 as soon as possible and hinted at economic sanctions if no progress is made on the issue.

But North Korean officials have not even answered phone calls recently, a senior Japanese diplomat was quoted as telling a group of relatives of the abductees and their supporters Tuesday.

Kenichiro Sasae, who heads the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, explained the situation during a meeting with the group, led by Shigeru Yokota, Megumi’s father, Yokota told reporters.

Earlier in the day, Japan denied that it had agreed with North Korea to keep secret the existence of cremated remains said to belong to Megumi during the bilateral talks in Pyongyang.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiken Sugiura told a press conference that Japanese diplomat Mitoji Yabunaka, Sasae’s predecessor, signed a document in which he promised to keep the ashes secret, confirming a report Monday by North Korea’s official media.

Sugiura said Japan had verbally told North Korea that it would make the ashes public if Yokota’s relatives agreed. ”North Korea raised no objection to this,” he said.

The Korean Central News Agency said Monday that Japan broke a promise it made during the talks to keep the remains secret.

A North Korean man said to be Yokota’s husband handed over the ashes to Yabunaka during November bilateral talks in Pyongyang.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group