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Mar 30, 12:21 AM EDT

Japan, North Korea hold 1st high-level talks in 16 months; abducted Japanese to top agenda

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BEIJING (AP) -- Japan and North Korea started high-level government talks on Sunday for the first time in more than a year that were expected to focus on abductions of Japanese by North Korea decades ago.

The fate of at least a dozen people who Japan says were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s is likely to top the agenda of the two-day talks in Beijing.

Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. They held talks in 2012 during a brief warming of relations, but those ended after North Korea launched a rocket in December of that year.

The two countries agreed to resume the talks after an informal gathering earlier this month between Japanese and North Korean foreign ministry officials in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.

On Sunday, North Korea's ambassador, Song Il Ho, met at the country's embassy in Beijing with the Japanese delegation led by Junichi Ihara, director general for Asian and Oceanic Affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents kidnapped more than a dozen Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. It allowed five of them to return to Japan, but said the others were either dead or had not been abducted to begin with. Japan believes there could be other Japanese abductees still alive in the North.

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