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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 10:55 GMT 11:55 UK
N Korea confesses to kidnappings
Koizumi (L) shakes hands with Kim Jong-Il
The leaders held two short meetings
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has admitted that his country kidnapped Japanese citizens - and that at least four were still alive.

Eight Japanese nationals, who were abducted in the 1970s and 80s, are confirmed dead.

It is regretful and I want to frankly apologise

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
Mr Kim reportedly apologised to the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, as the two leaders held talks in Pyongyang during their first face-to-face meeting.

Mr Koizumi said Mr Kim also agreed to freeze missile tests indefinitely - a move that could pave the way for a resumption of dialogue with the US.

North Korea said it would extend its moratorium on missile tests beyond the current deadline of 2003, Mr Koizumi told reporters.

Mt Koizumi said he and Mr Kim held "candid talks", and that talks to establish bilateral ties would go ahead in October.

Japan had been demanding answers over its missing citizens as a pre-condition for talks over normalising relations between the two countries.

Until now North Korea has denied any involvement in the disappearances of the Japanese, who were abducted to teach Japanese language and customs in North Korean spy schools.

"It is regretful and I want to frankly apologise," a Japanese official has quoted Mr Kim as saying.

Mr Kim also reportedly said that those responsible for the kidnappings had been "sternly punished".

Six out of 11 people, whom Tokyo has long claimed were abducted, were confirmed to have died in North Korea.

Four others are still alive, the North Koreans say, while they know nothing about one other citizen named as an abductee by Tokyo.

North Korea also admitted that two others who disappeared in Europe had died.

Relatives told

The BBC's Charles Scanlon, in Tokyo, says there is likely to be a furious reaction at home, where family members had been hoping for good news from the summit.

Megumi Yokota
Confirmed dead: Megumi Yokota
Japan's missing
  • Eight Japanese confirmed dead
  • Four still alive in North Korea
  • Kim Jong-il says he has punished the culprits
    See also:

  • North Korea had previously denied any responsibility for the mysterious disappearances, but recently said it would help look for them as a humanitarian gesture.

    The Japanese were in their early twenties when kidnapped about two decades ago.

    The youngest, Megumi Yokota, was just 13 when she was kidnapped on her way home from badminton practice. She is among the dead.

    The circumstances of the deaths are unclear.

    Relatives of the abducted people have been briefed about developments in Tokyo.

    North Korea said in statement from the foreign ministry that it would allow the four surviving Japanese to meet their families and return to Japan if they wanted.

    "We are ready to provide facilities to those survivors identified to enable them to meet with their families and relatives and those concerned of the Japanese Government, if necessary, and take necessary steps to let them return home or visit their hometowns if they wish," said a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman.

    Mr Koizumi held two sessions of talks with Mr Kim during his one-day visit to the North Korean capital. Much was at stake in this first encounter.

    Mr Kim badly needs Japanese economic help as well as diplomatic support at a time when he is under intense pressure from the US.

    And Mr Koizumi was determined not to return to Tokyo without having resolved the mystery of the abductees.

    The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Tokyo
    "An extraordinary development"
    Takeshi Kondo, Japanese MP
    "Kim Jong-il made a good step forwards"

    Nuclear tensions

    Inside North Korea

    Divided peninsula

    See also:

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