TOKYO  - The Japanese and North Korean Red Cross agreed on Friday they would work towards the repatriation of the remains of Japanese left behind after the occupation of the Korean peninsula, a report said.

Officials from the two countries' Red Cross organisations concluded a two-day meeting in Beijing, Jiji Press said, a rare opportunity for dialogue between two nations that have no diplomatic ties and frosty relations.

The Japan Red Cross Society said the two sides agreed to proceed with the repatriation of the remains of Japanese who died in the north during and immediately after World War II, according to Jiji. Ri Ho-Rim, secretary general of North Korea's Red Cross Society, was also quoted by Jiji as telling reporters separately: "We agreed on some of the issues. We will continue to discuss other important issues."

The meeting will be scrutinised for any sign of N Korea's diplomatic attitude under its new leader Kim Jong-Un, who is being watched by the outside world for his readiness to change the impoverished but nuclear-armed country. Japan occupied the Korean peninsula from 1910 until 1945 and about 34,600 Japanese died in what is now N Korea after Soviet troops entered, according to the Japanese welfare ministry. The remains of about 13,000 Japanese have been repatriated but around 21,000 others are believed to be buried in the North.

The two-day meeting was the first contact between the two Red Cross societies since August 2002, according to the Japanese Red Cross Society. At that time, the two sides discussed the fates of Japanese kidnap victims as well as home visits by Japanese who lived in the North after marrying North Koreans.

In 2002 North Korea admitted to kidnapping Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, but Tokyo maintains that Pyongyang did not tell the whole truth and has not owned up to all the abductions.

Its perceived refusal to come clean on the issue has derailed efforts to normalise ties between the two countries. North Korea's nuclear tests and a series of missile launches have also discouraged any rapprochement.