Calls to "free Japanese abductees"- Clinton

As it has been widely reported, Bill Clinton urged Kim Jon-il to free Japanese abductees in his recent trip to North Korea.

Free Japanese abductees

TOKYO - FORMER US president Bill Clinton on his North Korea mission this week urged leader Kim Jong-Il to resolve questions over the fate of kidnapped Japanese nationals, a top Japanese official said on Thursday.

However, Kim gave no answer over what happened to the Japanese still missing since they were kidnapped in the 1970s and 80s to train the communist country's spies, the official said, citing unnamed US government sources.

Mr Clinton's surprise visit to win the release of US journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee reminded many in Japan of their own nationals who vanished inside the isolated country after being abducted during the Cold War.

North Korea in 2001 admitted to 13 abductions. It allowed five victims to return home but said eight more had died - a claim Japan has rejected.

Japan insists North Korea is still hiding survivors and has abducted more people than it admits, in a dispute that has hardened positions and proved a stumbling block in talks to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Clinton during his visit 'urged General Secretary Kim Jong-Il to make progress in the abduction issue,' Japan's top government spokesman Takeo Kawamura told journalists Thursday, quoting an unnamed senior US official.

The former US president had 'strongly urged (North Korea) to open a new investigation in accordance with an earlier agreement between Japan and North Korea,' Mr Kawamura, the chief cabinet secretary, told a media briefing.

Mr Kawamura said that, while speaking to the US official, he had 'expressed gratitude for the remarks by former president Clinton.' 'We hope that this event will help solve the abduction issue,' he said, adding however that Kim had reportedly offered no reply to Mr Clinton.

Japan and North Korea, which have no diplomatic relations, agreed last year to conduct a new probe into the fate of those still missing, in which Japan was to have been given unprecedented access to the secretive state.

However the investigation, which was to have concluded late last year, never materialised. -- AFP

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