TOKYO (AP) — North Korea has reacted angrily 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 on Friday slammed the sanctions, calling them "provocative acts of hostility." It said in response, the committee formed to investigate the abductions had 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 '80s 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.
Investigating the abductions issue is a top political priority for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long promised families of those who disappeared to seek answers and if possible the return of any still alive.
A group of families of the abductees issued a statement saying they supported the government's stricter sanctions against Pyongyang, and were unhappy over "a complete lack of effort (by North Korea) to resolve the issue."
"We hope that new, real progress and the earliest possible rescue of the victims will follow from these stronger sanctions," it said.
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.