Japan ruling party approves North Korea sanctions

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TOKYO, Oct 4 (Reuters) Japan's ruling party today gave the green light for Tokyo to extend economic sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang's failure to reveal the fate of Japanese nationals it abducted decades ago.

The move comes on the heels of an agreement by North Korea to disable its nuclear facilities and declare its nuclear programmes by the end of the year, but Japan has insisted it would not ease pressure on Pyongyang unless there is progress on the abduction issue.

''With no progress currently seen on the abduction issue, there is no change to our stance of not participating in energy aid,'' Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told parliament after his Liberal Democratic Party approved the extention of sanctions.

In return for the agreement, reached at six-country talks aimed at coaxing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, the impoverished country would receive a total of 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil.

Fukuda welcomed the fact that the agreement, unveiled by China on Wednesday, stipulated North Korea and Japan would try to normalise their relations by taking ''specific actions''.

The six-party process also involves the United States, South Korea and Russia.

The fate of the abductees is a highly emotive issue in Japan.

Pyongyang admitted in 2002 that its agents had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, five of whom have since been repatriated.

North Korea says the other eight are dead, but Tokyo is demanding more information about their fate as well as information on another four people it says were also kidnapped.

Japan and North Korea last held talks in September on establishing diplomatic ties but failed to make any visible progress. They did agree to meet again, although no date has been set.

Japanese officials have said Tokyo planned to extend the sanctions -- which ban North Korean imports and bar North Koreans ships from Japanese ports -- for six months. Kyodo said the cabinet was set to give formal approval next Tuesday.

The measures were first imposed after Pyongyang carried out its first nuclear test last October and were rolled over in April until mid-October.

Japan's total trade with North Korea amounted to about 180 million dollars in 2005, about half that of 2002, and has dwindled to a trickle in 2006.

REUTERS PD HT1212

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