updated 12/8/2004 1:40:21 PM ET 2004-12-08T18:40:21

Japan lodged a formal complaint with North Korea on Wednesday after tests showed that human remains that Pyongyang claimed belonged to a Japanese citizen abducted decades ago by communist agents are those of someone else.

Pyongyang had said the remains belonged to Megumi Yokota, who disappeared in 1977 in a series of kidnappings of Japanese citizens by Northern agents. North Korea maintains that she died in 1994, but has provided no conclusive proof.

“The remains were someone else’s, not Megumi Yokota’s,” said Yukari Yamada, an official with the abductees’ support group in the Cabinet Office. The ashes belong to two unidentified people, officials said.

Discovery stokes anger
The results stoked deepening anger in Japan over North Korea’s refusal to disclose the truth about Yokota's circumstances and other outstanding cases, and fueled calls for Tokyo to walk away from negotiations with Pyongyang and impose economic sanctions against the communist regime.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said its embassy in China filed a formal protest to North Korean officials in Beijing. Tokyo’s request for a face-to-face meeting was denied by the North’s diplomats, the ministry said.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi attacked North Korea for the deception, and said he would demanded the truth from Pyongyang.

“It’s extremely regrettable that North Korea offered false materials,” Koizumi told reporters. But he also said the results offer “hope that Megumi isn’t dead.”

Asked if Tokyo was considering sanctions, Koizumi reiterated a well-worn refrain: “We’ll use both pressure and dialogue.”

North Korea has admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies in Japanese language and culture. The regime released five in 2002 but said eight others — including Yokota — had died.

It was the second time North Korea has turned over false remains of a missing Japanese abduction victim.

DNA testing
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said the failure to clear up the Yokota case could block further food shipments to the impoverished country.

“The remains were the crucial part of North Korea’s investigation results, and the results turned out to be untrue,” Hosoda said.

The remains were turned over the Japanese negotiators in Pyongyang on Nov. 15. The ashes were brought back to Japan, where scientists conducted DNA and other tests to determine their identity.

The findings deepened the mystery of Yokota’s fate. She was kidnapped when she was 13 years old and vanished into North Korea, which claimed she committed suicide.

Yokota’s parents, who have led the campaign by victims’ families to press North Korea for full disclosure, said they were relieved by the results, which they said showed Pyongyang could not be trusted to tell the truth.

“It’s good that the results let everyone in this country know how Kim Jong Il’s country is cruel, cold blooded and inhumane,” said Yokota’s mother, Sakie Yokota.

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