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Wives Can Visit Japan, N. Korea Says

July 17, 1997| From a Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — North Korea has announced that Japanese wives living in that country may be allowed to visit their homeland, which would remove a major irritant in relations between Tokyo and the Communist nation.

A statement on Wednesday night carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, monitored in Tokyo, said North Korea would "take steps" to allow some women "of advanced years" to visit Japan.

Japan's NHK Television reported today that low-level talks on the emotional issue now would be elevated to a higher level.

The Japanese government says about 1,800 women followed their Korean husbands to North Korea between 1959 and 1982. It says most of their relatives have not heard from them since their departures, adding that until now North Korea has stopped them from visiting Japan.

Allowing visits by the wives is one of the conditions Japan has set for giving aid to North Korea.

Japan regards North Korea as one of its main security threats and has held back from offering food aid to the famine-hit nation because of the countries' poor relations.

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