July 1, 2014 / 5:50 AM / 5 years ago

North Korean daughter of Japanese abductee could visit Japan this year

SEOUL (Reuters) - The North Korean daughter of a Japanese woman abducted by Pyongyang agents as a schoolgirl can visit Japan later this year, signaling a potential improvement in bilateral ties even as the two nations meet for talks in Beijing.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long put priority on solving the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea, and Pyongyang agreed a month ago to reopen an investigation into their fate. In return, Japan said it would ease some sanctions against Pyongyang once the new probe began.

Among those abducted was Megumi Yokota, who was snatched off a northern Japanese beach on her way home from school in 1977 at the age of 13. Pyongyang says she has died, although Japan has not accepted the explanation.

Her parents met Megumi’s North Korean-born daughter, Kim Eun Gyong, for the first time earlier this year in Mongolia, which Japan and North Korea often use for unofficial contacts.

Kim’s father was a South Korean man who was also abducted to North Korea.

Now, North Korea and Japan have agreed that 26-year-old Kim can visit Japan in November, said Choi Sung-yong, who heads South Korea’s Abductees’ Family Union, citing Japanese government and other sources.

“More importantly, before the grandparents met Eun Gyong in Mongolia,  North Korea and Japan already agreed to find out whether she (Megumi) is alive or dead, which is the foremost priority,” he added.

Megumi is one of 13 Japanese that North Korea admitted in 2002 had been kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s. Pyongyang says that eight of them are dead, including Megumi, but Japan wants more information and the issue has been a major stumbling block in normalizing ties between the two countries.

North Korea promised in 2008 to re-open a probe into their fate, but it never followed through. It also reneged on promises made in multilateral talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program and declared the negotiations over.

The Yokotas had long wanted to meet Megumi’s daughter since learning of her existence roughly a decade ago, but rejected proposals to meet in North Korea out of concern it would make it seem as if they accepted the explanation of what had happened to Megumi.

Reporting by Ju-min Park, writing by Elaine Lies, editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

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