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Oct 22, 6:23 AM EDT

Japan to send officials to North Korea next week


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TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's government said Wednesday that it will send a group of officials to North Korea next week for an update on the North's investigation into the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the officials will arrive in Pyongyang on Monday for a four-day trip.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the purpose of sending the team is to convey firmly to North Korea's special investigative committee that the resolution of the abduction issue is a high priority for Japan.

North Korea agreed in May to launch a new probe into the abductions during talks in Stockholm. In exchange, Japan agreed to ease some sanctions on the North.

The officials will meet with the investigative committee Tuesday and Wednesday. The Japanese delegation will include Junichi Ihara, head of the Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.

In September, Ihara and his North Korean counterpart, Song Il Ho, held a meeting in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang. Japan was hoping then to receive a preliminary report on the North's investigation, but none was presented.

In 2002, North Korea admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese nationals to train spies in Japanese language and culture. Five of them were allowed to return to Japan the same year and said others had died or never entered the North. Japan believes hundreds more may have been abducted and that many of them may still be alive.

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