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Japan issues arrest warrants for N.Korean agents

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TOKYO, Feb 23 (Reuters) Japan today issued arrest warrants for two suspected North Korean kidnappers, the latest step in a bitter, long-running row with North Korea over Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang decades ago, media reports said.

Anger has simmered in Japan over the abduction issue, which Tokyo says must be resolved before the two countries can establish diplomatic ties. Bilateral talks held this month made no progress on the issue, although the two sides agreed to talk again.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Japanese authorities issued a fresh arrest warrant for former North Korean agent Sin Guang-su on suspicion of kidnapping two Japanese nationals in 1978.

Japanese media said a warrant was also issued for Choe Sung-chol, who is suspected of having kidnapped two Japanese nationals in a separate 1978 incident.

Japanese police will put Sin on an international wanted list via Interpol, Abe said, adding that Japan would continue to demand the handover of suspected kidnappers in future talks with North Korea.

''We have been demanding...that North Korea resolve the abduction issue,'' Abe told a news conference.

''I think it is necessary for the North Korean side to clear everything up,'' he said.

Sin is suspected of having abducted Yasushi Chimura and Fukie Hamamoto from Fukui prefecture in western Japan in July 1978, while Choe is suspected of having abducted Kaoru Hasuike and Yukiko Okudo from Niigata prefecture in northern Japan in the same month.

The two couples -- both of whom married in North Korea -- returned to Japan in October 2002 for the first time in a quarter century following a Pyongyang summit between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

They are now living in Japan with their children.

FRESH WARRANTS Sin, who was arrested on spying charges in 1985 after entering South Korea with a forged Japanese passport, has already been put on an international wanted list in connection with the suspected abduction in 1980 of Tadaaki Hara, another Japanese national.

Sin was sentenced to death in the South but pardoned and sent to the North -- where he received a hero's welcome and had his portrait printed on a commemorative stamp -- after a historic summit in 2000 between the two Koreas.

Choe is another North Korean agent that Japanese authorities have long sought.

Kyodo news agency said Japanese police put Choe on the international wanted list under the ''Pak'' surname in 1985 for suspected spying activities. Choe is thought to have passed himself off as a Japanese man who went missing around 1961, Kyodo said, adding that the 1985 arrest warrant has since expired.

North Korea has admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies.

Pyongyang says eight of the abducted people are dead, while five have returned to Japan.

Tokyo wants more information about the eight, and about another three it believes were also kidnapped, as a precondition for normalising diplomatic ties with North Korea.

REUTERS CS DS1120

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