TOKYO — Japan froze the assets of 19 companies on Friday to step up pressure on North Korea to return Japanese citizens that it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s and to halt its nuclear weapons and missile development.
The companies, which have already been sanctioned by the United States, deal in finance, coal and minerals, transport including shipping and the sending of North Korean workers overseas.
A Foreign Ministry official said the unilateral move shows Japan's commitment to sanctions ahead of a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York later Friday to discuss the North Korea situation.
Japan has now frozen the assets of 103 companies and organizations and 108 individuals under either its own sanctions or Security Council resolutions. Of those, 56 groups and 62 individuals were unilateral.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Japan will continue to put pressure on North Korea to seek a resolution to both the abductee and nuclear and missile issues.
North Korean agents abducted Japanese citizens to train spies to pass as Japanese.
Later Friday, the United Nations' independent investigator on human rights in North Korea, Tomas Ojea Quintana, met with the families of abducted Japanese citizens.
Quintana arrived in Tokyo on Thursday to discuss the issue with Japanese officials after a visit earlier this week to South Korea, where he investigated North Korean allegations that Seoul abducted 12 North Korean women from China.
Japan's abduction issues minister, Katsunobu Kato, asked Quintana for his support, saying there is little time left for the aging families of the victims.
Japan says North Korea snatched at least 17 people in the 1970s and 1980s. North Korea has acknowledged abducting 13 and allowed five of them to visit Japan in 2002. All five stayed instead of returning to North Korea. The North says the other eight have died, without providing convincing proof, and their families have not given up hope.
Many of the families are getting old and are desperately seeking outside help to bring their loved ones home. This week, Nobuko Masumoto, whose daughter Rumiko was abducted with her boyfriend from Japan's southern coast in 1978, died at the age of 90.
U.S. President Donald Trump's meeting with families of abductees in November during a visit to Japan raised their hope for more public awareness and international support.
Associated Press writer Ken Moritsugu contributed to this report.
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Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press