TOKYO Japan on Thursday denied as "sheer misreporting" a front page newspaper story that North Korea had provided a list of some 30 Japanese survivors still living in the isolated country, including known victims of state-sponsored kidnapping.
The Nikkei business daily said North Korea produced the list at a July 1 meeting in Beijing to discuss North Korea's plan to resume investigations into the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s.
North Korea agreed in May to reopen the probe, prompting Japan to ease some sanctions.
"I'm aware of the report, but nothing like that happened during the meeting or during a recess," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a regular news conference.
"It's sheer misreporting."
The Nikkei, citing sources, said Tokyo had matched about two-thirds of the names on the list with domestic records of missing persons.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made the abductees' fate a focus of his political career, and proof that some of them are alive would almost certainly boost his popularity.
Some of those on the list are among the 12 victims of North Korean abductions recognized by Tokyo who have yet to return to Japan, the Nikkei reported.
Pyongyang admitted in 2002 to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens, and five of those abductees and their families later returned to Japan. North Korea said that the remaining eight were dead and that the issue was closed.
The North promised to reopen the investigation in 2008, but never followed through. It also reneged on promises made in multilateral talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program and declared the negotiations had ended.
(Reporting by Hugh Lawson and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Ron Popeski)