Japan Cabinet minister urges North Korea to quickly announce result of abductions probe

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TOKYO — A Japanese Cabinet minister on Wednesday urged North Korea to quickly release the results of a new investigation into the fate of dozens, possibly hundreds, of Japanese believed to have been abducted by the North's agents in the 1970s and '80s.

Minister in charge of abductions Eriko Yamatani said it is extremely regrettable that North Korea hasn't informed Japan of the timing or other details of its expected announcement.

"I urge North Korea to make an honest response, quickly," Yamatani told reporters.

North Korea agreed in May to launch a new probe into the abductions, six years after abandoning an earlier promise to do so. Japanese officials have said an announcement of the results is expected "around late summer or early autumn," which is generally interpreted as being mid- to late September.

In response to North Korea's agreement, Japan lifted some sanctions it had imposed over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, although U.N.-backed restrictions over the North's nuclear weapons program remain in place.

The abductions, along with the North's nuclear and missile development, have been a major source of tensions between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations.

In 2002, North Korea acknowledged that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese, mainly to train spies in Japanese language and culture. It allowed five of them to return to Japan that year, but said the others had died. Japan has officially recognized 17 cases, but believes hundreds more people may have been abducted and many may still be alive.

Wednesday is the 12th anniversary of the day that North Korea admitted having abducted Japanese citizens.

Yamatani, who grew up in Fukui, a coastal prefecture facing the Sea of Japan where several abductions occurred, said she feels strongly about resolving the problem. The issue will not be closed until all survivors return safely to Japan, she said.

"I apologize for the government's inability to make any progress over the past 12 years," Yamatani said, noting that the relatives of the abductees are getting older. "We really must resolve the issue quickly, as there is not much time left."

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