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June, 27, 2016

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Japan and N. Korea start talks in spite of Scud missile launch

BEIJING -- Japanese and North Korean envoys began talks Tuesday about the North's abduction of Japanese citizens after Tokyo expressed dismay at its firing of Scud missiles.

The meeting was aimed at clarifying the fate of missing Japanese, an issue that has kept relations in a deep freeze. The talks went ahead despite concern the North's launch of missiles on Sunday, which South Korea viewed as provocative, might prompt Tokyo to pull out.

The launch "is greatly regrettable" and runs counter to the spirit of previous joint statements, said Japan's chief envoy, Junichi Ihara. His North Korean counterpart, Song Il Ho, said the launches were "fully consistent with maintaining the peace and stability in the region."

North Korea abducted dozens, and possibly hundreds, of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. The North agreed to open an investigation into the abductions following three days of talks in Stockholm in May.

Pyongyang acknowledged in 2002 that its agents had abducted Japanese to train its spies and eventually returned five of them, along with their families. It said others Japan claimed were abducted had died or never entered the North.

Tokyo has disputed that and wants an investigation into at least 12 abduction cases. Private organizations say many more citizens were abducted. The dispute — along with concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons — has brought relations to a virtual standstill.

In Stockholm, Pyongyang agreed to set up a new committee to look into the matter and Tokyo vowed to lift some sanctions if the committee appeared to have a full