updated 8/11/2004 2:50:18 PM ET 2004-08-11T18:50:18

Japan and North Korea began talks Wednesday in China on a dispute over the fate of as many as 10 Japanese nationals abducted by the North decades ago.

Japanese media reports said Tokyo could suspend critical food aid to impoverished North Korea or refuse to resume talks on establishing diplomatic relations if the issue of the 10 missing is not resolved satisfactorily.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese nationals during the 1970s and ’80s to steal their identities and teach Japanese language and culture to its spies. Five of the abductees were returned to Japan in 2002.

Might some be alive?
North Korea says the other eight have died. But some in Japan believe they are alive and Tokyo is asking for a more thorough accounting. Japan also wants information on two other suspected abductees who are unaccounted for.

“We’re asking the North to make clear what happened to each and every one of the 10 Japanese still missing,” Japan’s chief delegate, Akitaka Saiki, said in comments shown on Japanese television.

Japan said this week it would send food and medicine worth $47 million to North Korea, which relies on foreign donations to feed its people. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s government said it might make another donation before next March.

But Tokyo could suspend food aid to the North if it fails to provide a satisfactory response on the missing, Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported, citing an unidentified Japanese official.

The two sides have never had diplomatic relations. Japanese television network NHK cited Japanese officials as saying that unless North Korea can satisfy Tokyo’s demands for new information about the kidnapping victims, Tokyo is unlikely to resume talks aimed at establishing formal ties.

No progress so far
These two-day talks between diplomats at the Japanese Embassy are the first since Koizumi flew to Pyongyang on May 22 to meet North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il.

Shigeru Yokota, whose daughter Megumi is believed to have died after being abducted to North Korea, said there had been no progress on Wednesday in locating the missing.

“It’s unfortunate that nothing came out of today’s meetings,” he told NHK. “It’s clear that with North Korea’s investigation still under way, there will be no progress from these talks.”

The Japanese newspaper Asahi said Tokyo also might ask to send its own investigators to the North. Many in Japan believe there are other abduction cases that Pyongyang has not yet owned up to.

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