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(3rd LD) N. Korea, Japan Red Cross hold 'productive' talks in China

2014/03/03 22:56

SHENYANG, China/ TOKYO, March 3 (Yonhap) -- Red Cross and government officials from North Korea and Japan ended their first day of talks on Monday during which they agreed to continue negotiations on the possible repatriation of the remains of Japanese nationals buried in the North, Pyongyang's chief delegate said.

Ri Ho-rim, secretary general of the North's Red Cross Society who heads the Pyongyang delegation, described Monday's talks in Shenyang, a major city in northeastern China, as "productive." He added that the talks were underway "in a serious mood."

   The talks, the first of their kind since August 2012, are expected to last until Wednesday, Ri told reporters when he arrived in Shenyang on Saturday. Diplomats from the two nations also attended the talks.

"Both North Korean and Japanese sides reached common ground that we need to continue to meet in the future to resolve the issue of the remains of Japanese," Ri told reporters after ending six hours of talks.

This week's talks focused on the possible return of the remains of Japanese who died in the communist country during World War II.

"This round of talks becomes more important as government officials from the two nations attended," Ri said. "The talks were underway in a serious mood and were productive."

   Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45. It normalized relations with South Korea in 1965 but has no formal diplomatic relations with the North.

The four-member North Korean delegation includes two North Korean diplomats handling Japanese affairs in the foreign ministry, which spawned speculation that some additional issues may be discussed at the meeting.

Japan sent Keiichi Ono, chief of its foreign ministry's Northeast Asia division, to the talks. The Japanese delegation is led by Osamu Tasaka, director general of the International Department at the Japanese Red Cross.

Japan's Kyodo News said in a Shenyang-datelined report that the foreign ministry officials from the two countries had informal talks on the sidelines of the Red Cross talks. The report cited an unnamed Japanese government official.

The two-hour talks involved Ono and Ryu Song-il, chief of the Japanese affairs section of the North Korean foreign ministry, according to the report.

The official told Japanese reporters on the condition of anonymity that Ono and Ryu discussed "various issues" between the two countries during what the called "an informal exchange of opinions," but declined to say what topics the two talked about, the report said.

The meeting raises hope that the contact could lead to the resumption of bilateral negotiations that have been suspended since 2012.

A similar Red Cross contact between North Korea and Japan in 2012 led to a government-level meeting later that year. A follow-up meeting, scheduled to be held a month later, was called off after Pyongyang announced a plan to launch a long-range rocket.