SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea (search) threatened on Wednesday to halt an investigation into Japanese citizens kidnapped by the communist state decades ago, escalating a dispute over the alleged remains of a Japanese abductee.
During talks in Pyongyang in November, North Korea handed over ashes it said belonged to Megumi Yokota (search) and another Japanese citizen kidnapped by North Korean agents. It said Yokota, who was 13 when kidnapped in 1977, committed suicide in a hospital in 1994.
Japanese forensics experts, however, announced this month the results of DNA tests that showed the remains belonged to two different people, sparking a controversy in Japan (search), where many suspect Yokota is still being held.
On Wednesday, North Korea accused "ultra-right conservative forces" in Japan of faking the test results to "drive the (North)-Japan hostile relations into an extreme phase," said Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's main state-run newspaper.
As a result, "it is impossible for the fact-finding committee to perform its duty," the newspaper's commentary, carried by the North's official news agency, KCNA, said.
North Korea demanded that Japan return the alleged remains of Yokota if it believed the remains came from other people.
North Korea has admitted kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s to be language teachers for spies, and allowed five of them to return to Japan in 2002. It says the other eight have died but has not yet provided proof, leading some in Japan to suspect some of them are still alive.
On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urged North Korea to immediately provide information on the Japanese citizens it kidnapped, rather than waiting for Tokyo to set a deadline.
Koizumi has come under increasing pressure to impose economic sanctions on impoverished North Korea's regime to punish it for refusing to come clean on the kidnapping cases.
The Asahi newspaper published a poll Tuesday showing 63 percent of respondents favored sanctions. Koizumi, however, is pushing to give North Korea more time before taking such steps.
Pyongyang has said it would consider sanctions against it a "declaration of war."