* Red Cross talks set for March 3, first time since 2012
* May pave way for first government talks in over a year
* Issue of Japanese abducted by North Korea remains thorn in relations (Adds details, background)
By Elaine Lies
TOKYO, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Officials from the Japanese and North Korean affiliates of the Red Cross will hold talks next week on the return of the remains of Japanese nationals from North Korea, a Japanese Red Cross official said on Thursday.
The move raises the possibility of the first talks between the two nations since late in 2012 and comes soon after a U.N. human rights report highlighted the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by Pyongyang decades ago.
"Next Monday, March 3, we plan to hold talks between officials from the Japanese and North Korean Red Cross," Atsuhiko Hata at the Japan Red Cross's PR section sid by telephone.
Foreign Ministry officials from both nations will also take part, he added.
Japan's NHK national television said the talks would be held in Shenyang in northeastern China, but Hata said the location had yet to be finalised.
Japanese media said the talks would centre on retrieving the remains of Japanese who died in the North at the end of World War Two, and that the last such discussions were followed within a few months by government-level talks.
Japanese media this month reported that an adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Dalian, also in northeastern China, last October, prompting speculation that he may have made contact with North Korean officials there.
North Korea abducted Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies in Japanese language and culture. Japan has repeatedly asked for more information about what happened to those who were kidnapped, but the North insists the case is closed.
The abductions have long been a source of diplomatic friction, with concerns over North Korea's nuclear programme also straining ties.
Relations between Japan and its other neighbours, China and South Korea, have soured over territorial rows and Abe's visit last December to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where convicted war criminals are honoured along with war dead.
Beijing and Seoul were also outraged last week when a senior Japanese official said Tokyo would review the testimony of South Korean women who served in wartime brothels, raising concerns that it might water down a 1993 apology on the issue that has long caused tension with Asian nations.
Negotiations with Pyongyang over its nuclear programme have stalled recently, but U.S. foreign policy experts said in a report released on Wednesday that the United States should engage more with North Korea as a way to revive talks aimed at ending the programme.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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