The Prime Minister of Japan said on Tuesday that he had asked the president of the North Korean national assembly to release Japanese citizens allegedly kidnapped by Pyongyang during a brief encounter at the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Shinzo Abe told a budget committee of the house of representatives that he had directly asked Kim Yong-nam to resolve the problem and return all those kidnapped to Japan.

At least 17 Japanese citizens were allegedly kidnapped between 1970-1980 and forced to work for the North Korean regime, with five of them freed in 2002.

Pyongyang claims that eight others have died and the rest never arrived on its territory, something which Tokyo challenges.

The Abe government has made the issue a central focus of its North Korea policy, according to government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga.

Suga said in a press conference on Tuesday that Abe also conveyed Japan's stand on North Korea's weapons and missile program to Kim, who headed the North Korean delegation at the PyeongChang 2018 opening ceremony on Feb. 9.

Suga said that although Japan values the joint Korean efforts for the success of the Games, Tokyo would not change its stand that more pressure should be applied on Pyongyang to stop their weapons program.