August 14, 2012 / 8:41 AM / 7 years ago

Japan, North Korean officials to meet for first time in four years

TOKYO (Reuters) - Diplomats from Japan and North Korea will meet for the first time in four yours later this month for talks that could touch on the contentious issue of the North’s abduction of Japanese citizens decades ago, Japan said on Tuesday.

The talks, which are scheduled to be held in Beijing on August 29, would also be the first since Kim Jong-un took control of North Korea after his father, Kim Jong-il, died in December, a further signal he may be breaking free of decades of dour and reclusive management of the impoverished country.

North Korea abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in the Japanese language and culture. Japan has repeatedly asked for more information about what happed to those who were kidnapped, but North Korea has insisted that the case is closed.

The abductions have long been a source of diplomatic friction, so any sign of progress on the issue could herald a thaw in relations between the Asian neighbours.

Japan would bring up the abductions but was not sure whether they would be on the agenda at future meetings, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters.

The retrieval of the remains of Japanese who died on the Korean peninsula during World War II would also be on the agenda, he said.

China on Tuesday promised to help major firms invest in North Korea, signalling strong support for Kim just as he is believed to be planning reforms to his country’s economy.

Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Nick Macfie

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