WASHINGTON – Japanese lawmakers urged the United States on Wednesday not to give food aid to North Korea, saying the donations could ease pressure on Pyongyang to free Japanese citizens abducted decades ago.
The delegation, joined by victims' relatives, has been meeting with U.S. officials and lawmakers this week to raise awareness of the unresolved cases of at least 12 citizens Tokyo says were kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and '80s.
They also urged the U.S. to designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Washington lifted the designation in 2008.
"We can resolve the abduction issue if we make the regime of North Korea weaker and put it under maximum pressure," Japanese ruling party lawmaker Jin Matsubara told The Associated Press.
Matsubara said his impression is that the U.S. is willing to provide food aid if it can secure proper monitoring of the handouts, which were requested by impoverished North Korea in January after harsh weather hit staple crops. The United Nations has appealed for emergency assistance for 6 million people. The U.S. says it has yet to reach a decision.
Matsubara, one of eight Japanese lawmakers in the delegation, asserted that regardless of monitoring in place, aid would be diverted by North Korea's communist regime and would not reach the people who need it.
Japan's government, a close U.S. ally, has said it has no plan to give food aid.
The abductees issue has captivated attention in Japan since Pyongyang acknowledged in 2002, after years of denial, that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese to train its spies. It returned five abductees but claimed the rest had died.
Japan disputes that and says as many as 12 Japanese may still be captives in North Korea.
Matsubara accused the North Korean government of lying about the circumstances in which Japanese abductees had died and of providing bodily remains of one victim, Megumi Yokota, that analysis showed did not match her DNA.
Shozo Azuma, senior vice minister of the Cabinet Office, said a Japanese investigation has concluded that more than 100 other Japanese who are unaccounted for also probably were abducted by Pyongyang agents.
He said there had been no progress or talks with North Korea on the issue since 2008, when Pyongyang pulled back from an agreement to reopen investigations into the abductions.
Japan also is a party to suspended multination talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
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