Many in Japan demand sanctions on N. Korea

Dispute over remains of abductee sparks outrage

December 12, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

TOKYO - The association of relatives of Japanese abductees to North Korea and ruling and opposition parties are calling on the government to impose economic sanctions on Pyongyang following an official announcement Wednesday that said the remains given to Japan by Pyongyang were not those of Megumi Yokota.

The government for its part is waiting to see how North Korea will explain the discrepancy between the results of DNA testing in Japan and Pyongyang's claims that the remains were those of Yokota, who was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977 at age 13.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters Wednesday night that talks with Pyongyang would continue despite the latest development.

But Shinzo Abe, the Liberal Democratic Party's acting secretary general, who heads its task force on the abduction issue, disagreed. He said in a press conference later that day, "Now that it has become clear that the North Koreans have no intention of abiding by the Pyongyang Declaration in a sincere manner, it is meaningless to have further talks with them."

The Pyongyang Declaration was signed by Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the prime minister's visit to Pyongyang in September 2002 with a view to facilitating negotiations for normalizing diplomatic relations by resolving the abduction issue.

Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe said what was happening was nothing but an act by "a rogue nation," adding "we have to put further pressure on North Korea." Takenori Kanzaki, head of New Komeito, the LDP's coalition partner, deplored Pyongyang for "ridiculing" the Japanese.

A sense of rage swept through government officials, too. A senior Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "As we now learn that they gave us false evidence, the credibility of all information provided by North Korea is being questioned." He added that he found it hard to understand why Pyongyang had handed over bogus remains.

To date, the government has adopted a dialogue-and-pressure approach toward North Korea with regards to resolving the abduction issue. The discovery of false evidence concerning Yokota is certain to give rise to a call for leaning heavier on the "pressure" side of the equation.

One such result is that the government has decided to suspend food aid to the North. During his second visit to Pyongyang in May, Koizumi pledged to provide 250,000 tons of food to the North Koreans, of which half has yet to be shipped.

Some question whether the government will resort to legally backed economic sanctions against the North. Many government officials remain cautious about imposing that particular punitive action.

Under the revised Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law, the government can restrict or suspend remittances to and trade with North Korea.

According to Finance Ministry statistics, two-way trade between Japan and North Korea amounted to about 30.8 billion yen in 2003. For North Korea, it was the third-largest after China and South Korea. Government sources said money transferred to the North from Japan totals several tens of billions of yen a year.

Therefore, the North Koreans would be hard hit if Japan were to ban money transfers and merchandise transactions between the two countries.

Another senior Foreign Ministry official pointed out that North Korea would take advantage of any excuse to absent itself from six-party talks - which involve China, Japan, Russia and the United States and North Korea and South Korea - on Pyongyang's nuclear development program.

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