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Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011

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Unqualified support: Soccer fans cheer Japan's national team during a World Cup qualifying match against Tajikistan Oct. 11 at Nagai Stadium in Osaka. KYODO PHOTO

N. Korea-bound soccer fans' safety seen at risk


Staff writer

The government is working to ensure the safety of Japanese fans heading to Pyongyang for the third match of the 2014 World Cup Asian qualifiers scheduled for Nov. 15, a Foreign Ministry official said Monday.

Next month's match will be the first Japan has played on North Korean soil in 22 years. The last time was in 1989 during the qualifiers for the 1990 World Cup.

But the lack of diplomatic ties is casting a shadow over the match, in terms of ensuring the safety of Japanese. Tokyo and Pyongyang have been at loggerheads over Japanese sanctions imposed in response to North Korea's nuclear weapons program and past abductions of Japanese nationals.

The government has been requesting since 2006 that travelers refrain from visiting North Korea.

Given the poor state of relations, there is little Tokyo can do to assist any Japanese soccer fans who run into trouble in Pyongyang.

In April, three employees of a Japanese machine-tool maintenance company were detained in a North Korean town near the border with Russia for alleged drug smuggling.

"However, this is an important match, and the Foreign Ministry would like to support our national squad as best we can," said Shuichi Deki of the ministry's Exchange Programs Division.

Deki said his division is in the process of compiling emergency safety guidelines for travelers who run into problems.

But a representative of Three O Seven International Co., a travel agency providing tours to North Korea, said safety was not an issue.

"We can get visas for tourists in one week, and have never encountered any problems," the representative said, adding that they have received many reservations from supporters for tours to see the match in Pyongyang.

The tour, which includes flights between Beijing and Pyongyang, tickets for the match, hotel rooms and an invitation to an all-you-can-drink party, costs around ¥200,000.



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