- Affected sanctions include an entry ban on N. Korean citizens and an embargo on ships
- Pyongyang says it is setting up a special committee to investigate the Japanese cases
- North Korean operatives kidnapped at least 17 Japanese citizens in the '70s and '80s
- The United States has voiced support for Japan's efforts to resolve the issue
Japan on Friday eased several of its sanctions on North Korea after the two countries made progress this week in talks about Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North Korean regime during the Cold War.
The sanctions the Japanese government is lifting or softening include an entry ban on North Korean citizens, an embargo on North Korean ships in Japanese ports and a requirement for reporting movements of money to North Korea.
Tokyo is easing some of its unilateral sanctions, but it's sticking to the multilateral ones set out in U.N. resolutions.
Japan's move came after the regime in Pyongyang agreed this week to reopen investigations into the decades-old cases of the kidnap victims following talks between the two sides in Beijing.
According to the Japanese government, North Korean operatives abducted at least 17 Japanese people in the late 1970s and early 1980s
, possibly dozens more.
In 2002, North Korea admitted to the kidnappings for the first time but allowed only five abduction victims to return home to Japan. Information on the remaining 12 was sketchy at best.
Some were kidnapped alone, while walking to and from school. Others were taken in pairs while out on dates, including a couple snatched from the beach after walking to see the sunset.
North Korea is setting up a "Special Investigative Committee," the country's state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Friday.
The committee of about 30 officials will look into the cases of "all Japanese" residing in North Korea, the report said, with different panels for abducted Japanese, missing Japanese and Japanese people's remains.
Visits, ships and money
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had announced plans to ease the sanctions Thursday. He said such a move would be "only a start," and that he would aim for a "complete resolution" of the issue.
His government said Friday that it would remove the entry ban on North Korean citizens and partially lift the embargo on North Korean-flagged ships, allowing those on "humanitarian" missions to dock in Japanese ports.
It also raised the threshold at which money moved into North Korea has to be reported: from 100,000 yen (about $1,000) to 1 million yen for cash, and from 3 million yen to 30 million yen for money transfers.
The government also removed a restriction that asked Japanese citizens to voluntarily not travel to North Korea, a measure that had stymied the organization of commercial tours to the country.
The United States has so far expressed support for Japan's efforts to resolve the abductions issue in a transparent way, saying it's in close contact with Tokyo on the matter.
South Korea has said it "looks forward to an early resolution on humanitarian grounds" of the kidnapping cases, stressing that the process should not undermine efforts to put pressure on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.
The families of the kidnapped Japanese citizens, meanwhile, are waiting to see whether the diplomatic maneuvers will bring them any answers about what happened to their missing relatives.