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Parents of Japan kidnap victim meet N. Korean grandchild

TOKYO - The aging parents of a Japanese woman who was kidnapped and taken to North Korea as a schoolgirl and allegedly died there have met her daughter for the first time, Japan's foreign ministry said Sunday.

Megumi Yokota's parents "spent time together" with their granddaughter Kim Eun-Gyong, 26, and her family in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator over five days last week, the ministry said without giving further details.

Yokota, who North Korea claims killed herself in 1994, became a symbol of a bitter bilateral row over Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly aimed at training North Korean spies in Japanese language and customs.

Tokyo rejects the claim that Yokota committed suicide as baseless.

Yokota's parents -- father Shigeru, 81, and mother Sakie, 78 -- had previously refused to meet Kim for fear of being used in North Korean efforts to establish their daughter's alleged death as fact.

"We cannot talk about it now. Please let us have a chance to rest calmly," Yokota's mother said in a statement to Japanese media.

In the Ulan Bator meeting, Kim reiterated to the Yokotas that her mother was dead, Jiji Press quoted Japanese government sources as saying.

It was not immediately clear if the meeting could help improve Tokyo-Pyongyang ties. The two countries, which have no diplomatic relations, relaunched Red Cross talks on humanitarian issues this month following a two-year break.

The meeting was arranged by foreign ministry officials from the two countries who attended the Red Cross talks in Shenyang, China, according to Japanese media reports.

Kidnapped at 13

Megumi Yokota was only 13 when she was abducted by North Korean agents in 1977 on her way home from school in the city of Niigata by the Sea of Japan (known by the Koreas as the East Sea) and taken to North Korea by boat.

North Korea admitted in 2002 to having abducted a dozen Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. It said, without presenting conclusive evidence, that eight of them, including Yokota, were dead.

The Japanese government has demanded that North Korea come clean on the abduction issue, saying that the deaths cannot be true, owing to a lack of evidence and North Korean defectors claiming to have seen some of the victims alive after their alleged deaths.

Japan also believes there are more kidnapping victims.

In 2004, North Korea handed over to Japan cremated remains it claimed were Yokota's. However, Tokyo said DNA tests conducted in Japan proved the claim to be untrue.

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A North Korean soldier looks at the south side through a pair of binoculars at the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 12.

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