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N. Korea Accuses Japan of 'Aggression'
( 2003-09-18 11:54) (Agencies)

North Korea accused Japan on Wednesday of plotting "aggression" and blamed it for souring relations a year after a historic summit that some saw as a step toward ending a decades-old Cold War rivalry.

The statement from North Korea's Foreign Ministry underscored how far the two countries' relationship has regressed since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi flew to Pyongyang on Sept. 17, 2002, and shook hands with leader Kim Jong Il in the breakthrough meeting.

Since then, talks over the North Korean abduction of Japanese citizens have come to a standstill, while Japan has started to bulk up its military and missile defense systems amid growing concerns about the North's suspected nuclear weapons programs.

"The Japanese authorities have taken one measure after another to increase their military capacity in a bid to launch overseas aggression," said the statement, issued Tuesday but carried Wednesday by Pyongyang's state-controlled KCNA news agency.

North Korea also said the Pyongyang Declaration, a pledge by Japan and North Korea to resolve their differences through dialogue, clearly wasn't working.

"Regretfully, the review of the past one year indicates that the present bilateral relations are much worse than those before the declaration was published," the statement said.

North Korea insisted that the abduction problem was an "abnormal isolated case" and criticized Japan for "making much fuss." The statement said Japan should first compensate sex slaves and other victims of Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

During last year's summit, North Korea stunned the world by apologizing for the abductions of Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 80s, allegedly to train agents in Japanese culture and language. The apology was seen as a major breakthrough and there had been talk of establishing diplomatic ties.

Five survivors were later allowed to return to Japan, but without their children, and have since become the focus of a tug-of-war between the two governments. The Japanese government's failure to win the children's release has become a key criticism among those who think Koizumi has not pressured North Korea enough.

"All of the family members were disappointed by the fact that there has been no progress since the five abductees returned to Japan," said Toru Hasuike, brother of Kaoru Hasuike, who was whisked away from his seaside hometown in 1978 and returned without his two children.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, speaking Wednesday to reporters in Tokyo, reiterated Japan's stance that relations between the countries could not be normalized until the abductees' families were also allowed to return to Japan.

North Korea said in its statement that the issue "has already been settled during the Japanese prime minister's Pyongyang visit."

Japanese diplomats held three meetings on the issue with North Korean counterparts on the sidelines of six-nation talks last month in Beijing, although all that was won was a vague promise for more talks.

Koizumi told reporters Wednesday that the abductions are drawing increasing international sympathy, and pledged that Tokyo would "pursue North Korea's sincere response."

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