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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 September, 2003, 16:40 GMT 17:40 UK
N Korea group's Tokyo offices 'seized'
Authorities in Tokyo have seized properties belonging to North Korea's de facto representative office in Japan, according to media reports.

The metropolitan government appropriated three premises, including the headquarters, of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon.

The Japanese newspaper Mainichi Daily News said in its online edition that the properties were seized because association had failed to pay 46m yen ($400,000) in taxes.

It comes at a time of heightened tension between Japan and North Korea, at odds over North Korea's controversial nuclear programme and seizure of Japanese nationals during the Cold War years.

Tax break

Officials are reported to have seized three properties in the Chiyoda and Bunkyo wards.

They had been exempt from property taxes since 1972, when Marxist Tokyo Governor Ryokichi Minobe recognised the offices as equivalent to diplomatic missions.

But in July this year, the metropolitan government changed its policies and demanded Chongryon pay tax.

A city official told the Mainichi Daily News the city was forced to act after Chongryon did not pay up.

"We have taken this action based on the law because the general association showed no intention of paying."

Heightened tension

Officials from Chongryon are appealing against the seizures, blocking any moves to auction the properties until the issue is settled.

The move comes against a background of growing anti-North Korean sentiment in Japan.

Japan has expressed concern over North Korea's determination to press ahead with its nuclear programme, despite international pressure to desist.

Pyongyang has also rebuffed calls by Tokyo to repatriate Japanese nationals kidnapped in the 1970s and 1980s to be used as spies.

Relatives and supporters of those missing staged a protest at a Japanese port earlier this year after a controversial North Koran ferry service resumed between the two countries.

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