Page last updated at 10:44 GMT, Monday, 10 November 2008

New hopes for missing Japan woman

Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone
Japan's foreign minister says the government is working on the case

Japan's government is investigating claims that a citizen suspected to have been kidnapped by North Korea more than 30 years ago is still alive.

Kyoko Matsumoto, who would now be 60, disappeared in 1977 but North Korea has always denied she entered the country.

Hope she is alive were raised when she reportedly sent a message including details only she could have known.

Ms Matsumoto may have been among a number of Japanese taken by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 2002, North Korea admitted that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens to help train its spies in Japanese ways. It said five had been returned to their families and the other eight had died.

But it denied knowledge of several other missing people, including Ms Matsumoto.

The abduction issue has long soured relations between the two nations.

Nickname clue

Ms Matsumoto's whereabouts had long been a mystery, but last month a Japanese civic group dealing with possible kidnap cases received a message from someone purporting to be her.

North Korea said this photo showed Megumi Yokota as a young woman (file photo)
Snatched in the '70s and '80s
Used as cultural trainers for North Korean spies
Five allowed home in 2002
Five children now freed from North Korea
Eight said to be dead, others missing

In the message, directed at a former colleague of Ms Matsumoto, a reference was made using a nickname it is thought likely only Ms Matsumoto could have known.

Other reports suggest a North Korean official told a Chinese businessman visiting North Korea that it might be possible to arrange a meeting between Ms Matsumoto and her family.

Speaking on Fuji Television on Sunday, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said: "If the information [about the message] is true, Ms Matsumoto is doing fine and it's a good thing. We will make further efforts to achieve a resolution through diplomatic channels."

Ms Matsumoto's brother, 61-year-old Hajime Matsumoto, says he has met the Chinese businessman to find out more information, and is hopeful that his sister is alive and that "a day may come when we can rescue her".

The abduction issue has long been an obstacle to dialogue between Japan and North Korea.

Tokyo wants the issue resolved before diplomatic ties with Pyongyang can be normalised, and has refused to provide North Korea with aid in exchange for steps towards nuclear disablement - as agreed in six-party negotiations - without the resolution of the abductions issue.

Meanwhile North Korea is keen to seek reparations for Japan's 35-year colonisation of the Korean peninsula.

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