North Korea halts probe into fate of kidnapped Japanese

A member of the Japan Self-Defense Forces stands near a PAC-3 Patriot missile unit, background, deployed for North Korea's rocket launch at Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. North Korea on Sunday defied international warnings and launched a long-range rocket that the United Nations and others call a cover for a banned test of technology for a missile that could strike the U.S. mainland. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea reacted angrily Friday to new sanctions announced by Japan over its recent rocket launch and said in response it will halt an investigation into the fate of Japanese citizens it kidnapped decades ago.

Japan had eased some earlier sanctions on North Korea after it promised in 2014 to reinvestigate the kidnappings, which are a highly sensitive issue in Japan. The North has repeatedly delayed providing results from the probe.

Japan announced new sanctions Wednesday that include expanded restrictions on travel between the two countries and a complete ban on visits by North Korean ships to Japan.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency slammed the sanctions, calling them “provocative acts of hostility.” It said in response, the committee formed to investigate the abductions has been dissolved and the probe will be “totally stopped.” It also warned of additional stronger countermeasures.

In 2002, North Korea admitted to kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies in Japanese language and culture. Five were allowed to return to Japan the same year, and North Korea says the others died or never entered the North.

Japan believes hundreds more may have been abducted and that many may still be alive.

North Korea launched a rocket on Sunday carrying what it said was an Earth observation satellite into space. The launch, which came about a month after the country’s fourth nuclear test, was quickly condemned by outsiders as a test of banned ballistic missile technology.

In announcing the new sanctions, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan hoped to keep a door open for dialogue to resolve the fate of the abductees.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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