STOCKHOLM, Sweden, May 29 (UPI) -- North Korean negotiators agreed to investigate the disappearance of Japanese citizens during the 1970s and 1980s, it said Thursday at talks in Stockholm, Sweden.
North Korea has repeatedly claimed it has offered complete accounts of the incidents. The reversal of North Korea's stance on the matter, which has angered the Japanese for years, signals a possible diplomatic breakthrough between the two countries.
Japan angrily cut nearly all ties with North Korea in 2002, when North Korea admitted it kidnapped up to a dozen Japanese citizens and offered vague explanations of their whereabouts. Five were returned, alive, to Japan. Most had been abducted by North Korean agents as the Japanese citizens relaxed on resort beaches or walked home from school.
"We expect this to yield concrete results in quickly resolving problems ... including the return of any surviving abductees," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. Japan agreed to begin lifting sanctions it imposed over the issue.
Japan has been pressing North Korea to provide an account of the missing people. Unconfirmed reports suggested some were seen alive in North Korea after 2002.
Suga said North Korea also agreed to set up a committee to conduct an internal investigation of the abduction incidents, as well as identify the fate of other Japanese in North Korea, including those who accompanied their Korean spouses to North Korea in the 1950s.