NORTH KOREA TARGETED

Bill to bar ships from ports goes to Diet

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The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito submitted a bill Tuesday to the Diet that would allow the government to bar North Korean ships from entering Japanese ports.

While the bill does not specify any country, its target is the North Korean ferry Mangyongbong-92, the only such vessel plying between Japan and North Korea that carries people, goods and hard currency, lawmakers said.

The move comes after the Diet revised the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Law in February to allow Japan to impose unilateral economic sanctions on North Korea.

Although government officials said they hope the two sets of legislation serve as diplomatic cards in negotiating with Pyongyang to resolve the issue of Japanese citizens abducted to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, Pyongyang may further toughen its stance toward Japan.

“This (move) means the government has adopted a policy of dialogue and pressure” in dealing with North Korea, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said during a news conference Tuesday.

“The legislation is a tool for the government to act appropriately in case North Korea aggravates the situation,” she said.

The bill would allow the government to ban, for a certain period of time, port calls by ships from a designated country and vessels that have stopped at that country’s ports. The ban could be imposed if the Cabinet decides it is necessary for maintaining peace and security.

Under the bill, captains who violate the ban would face up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 3 million yen, or both.

The Democratic Party of Japan has already submitted to the Diet its own version of the legislation, aimed at blocking not only sea routes but also air routes and would be valid for a specified period of time.

LDP Secretary General Shinzo Abe expressed a positive stance Tuesday on holding consultations with the DPJ for a possible amendment of the legislation.

The Diet will enter deliberations on the bill in the House of Representatives after bills on privatizing the public highway corporations clear the Lower House, probably before the Golden Week holidays start in late April.

Hirasawa quits group

Staff report

House of Representatives member Katsuei Hirasawa will resign Wednesday as secretary general of a lawmakers’ group working on behalf of Japanese abducted by North Korea, including the five who were allowed to return to Japan, and the abductees’ relatives, group executives said Tuesday.

Hirasawa’s clandestine talks with North Korean officials in Beijing last week provoked widespread criticism.

Hirasawa tendered his resignation Friday, after returning from his trip to China.

The group will formally accept his resignation Wednesday at a general meeting, after voicing “regret” that Hirasawa’s actions had caused distrust among relatives of people believed abducted to North Korea, including the five who were repatriated, members said.

The group and the relatives have agreed to entrust negotiations with North Korea to the government.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said Tuesday that the government will continue to call on Pyongyang to hold intergovernmental talks on the abduction issue.

Kawaguchi was responding to Hirasawa’s remark that Pyongyang will probably agree to hold talks if the government issues a fresh request.

The foreign minister also noted that the next talks may be held between deputy bureau chiefs, a lower level than the previous meeting in February attended by Mitoji Yabunaka, the ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau chief, and Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka.