TOKYO — Japan and North Korea are set to hold talks later this month over the repatriation of the remains of Japanese left behind after the occupation of the Korean peninsula, a news report said Monday.
The Kyodo news agency said the two countries, which have no diplomatic ties and frosty relations, were in final discussions about holding formal talks in late August, in what would be the first dialogue on the sensitive topic in four years.
Japan occupied the Korean peninsula from 1910 until 1945, and about 34,600 Japanese died in what is now North Korea after Soviet troops entered at the end of World War II, according to the Japanese welfare ministry.
The remains of about 13,000 Japanese have been repatriated but around 21,000 others are believed to be buried in the North.
Citing Japanese government sources, Kyodo said the talks between the two governments, which were last held in August 2008, were likely to take place in a third country, possibly China.
The news report came just days after the Japanese and North Korean Red Cross reportedly agreed to work towards the repatriation of the remains of Japanese who died in the north during and immediately after World War II.
Last week's meeting between the two Red Cross societies was their first contact since August 2002, according to the Japanese Red Cross Society.
At that time, the two sides discussed the fates of Japanese kidnap victims as well as home visits by Japanese who lived in the North after marrying North Koreans.
In 2002 North Korea admitted to kidnapping Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, but Tokyo maintains that Pyongyang did not tell the whole truth and has not owned up to all the abductions.
Its perceived refusal to come clean on the issue has derailed efforts to normalise ties between the two countries. North Korea's nuclear tests and a series of missile launches have also discouraged any rapprochement.
Government talks would signal a thaw in relations and would be scrutinised for signs of North Korea's diplomatic attitude under its new leader Kim Jong-Un.
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