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Friday, 29 March, 2002, 08:44 GMT
North Korea calls off Japan talks
North Korea
The talks would have marked diplomatic progress
High-level talks between Japan and North Korea due to take place this weekend have been postponed.

According to a Japanese government minister, the North Koreans called off the meeting saying they were not ready.

The official focus was financial aid for Korean survivors of the 1945 atomic bomb explosions in Japan.

But the issue of Japanese nationals alleged to have been abducted by North Korea more than 20 years ago was also expected to be raised by Tokyo.

Kidnap controversy
Japan believes at least 11 people kidnapped by North Korea
Used to teach North Korean spies Japanese language and culture
Spies then entered South Korea posing as Japanese tourists

The talks would have been the first ministerial-level meeting between the two countries since July 2000.

Japanese Health Minister Chikara Sakaguchi, who was supposed to fly to Singapore on Saturday for the meeting with his North Korean counterpart, expressed irritation about Pyongyang's decision.

"I think their attitude is very insincere... Even if they say they want to rearrange the talks, I am not sure I would want to go ahead", he was quoted as saying.
Japan's Health Minister Chikara Sakaguchi
Japan was told North Korea had not completed preparations for the talks

He suggested North Korea might have backed off after reports that he would he press them about the issue of the "kidnapped" Japanese.

"I get the feeling they may have wanted to meet very privately and were put off by the publicity", he said.

There has been no word from the North Koreans.

Japan believes at least 11 of its nationals were kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s to train as spies or teach agents Japanese language and culture.

Pyongyang has repeatedly denied involvement.

The issue has hampered negotiations between the two countries on establishing formal diplomatic relations.

South's diplomatic push

The cancellation of the Singapore talks comes amid indications North Korea may be inching back towards dialogue with South Korea and the US, after several months of silence.

South Korea is to send an envoy to North Korea next week to try and restart suspended talks after a four-month break in contacts.

The south hopes the visit will help to reduce tensions on the divided peninsula ahead of the football World Cup, which it is co-hosting.

North Korea is also expected to be pressed to resume talks with the South by Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri who is currently in Pyongyang.

She met North Korean leader Kin Jong-il on Saturday, though no details of their talks were released.

The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"The Indonesian President held bi-lateral talks"
See also:

28 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea pressed to resume dialogue
26 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea gears up for festivities
26 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
South Korean envoy 'may meet Kim'
21 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Anger over Korea military exercise
25 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: North Korea's strategic moves
01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea hits back at US
26 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's North Koreans in hiding
20 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
'Manhunt' for N Korean defectors
14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Koreans' embassy dash
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Kim dismisses 'rogue' status
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