Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) speaks to reporters at his official residence in Tokyo on July 3, 2014. Japan will revoke some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea, the prime minister announced on July 3, after talks on the Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals. Abe said Tokyo judged Pyongyang, which pledged to re-investigate the disappearance of missing Japanese citizens, had shown sufficient willing in resolving the decades-old row and that this needed to be reciprocated. JAPAN OUT AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS (Photo credit should read JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)
Japanese PM demands answers for abduction
01:21 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

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

Tokyo CNN  — 

Japan said Thursday it plans to lift some sanctions on North Korea after the two countries held talks about Japanese citizens abducted by the North Korean regime decades ago.

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 kidnapped at least 17 Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 1980s, possibly dozens more.

Special committee

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.

Abe is expected to meet with his National Security Council on Thursday to decide which sanctions to lift.

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.

U.S. supportive

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.

CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki reported from Tokyo and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s K.J. Kwon and Brian Walker contributed to this report.