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Freed Japanese hostages arrive in Dubai

Ramona Ruiz And Mahmoud Ali
Filed on April 17, 2004

DUBAI - The three former Japanese hostages who had arrived in Dubai from Baghdad yesterday are regaining their physical and mental strength at the American Hospital, while the whereabouts of two Japanese citizens in Iraq are still unknown.

In a Press briefing at the Grand Hyatt yesterday, a spokesperson from the Japanese Embassy in Jordan said that Deputy Foreign Minister Ichiro Aisawa, who earlier addressed the Japanese media at 6pm yesterday, met with the three freed hostages at the American Hospital at 5pm.

Mr Aisawa was quoted as saying that he believed that their physical and mental illness, if any, should be healed. 'I have arrived Dubai from Amman this morning and had just met the three Japanese citizens. I was relieved to see that they are relatively fine,' said Mr Aisawa who plans to go back to Japan, with Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Kazunori Tanaka replacing him as task force chief in Amman.

'Needless to say, the incident (abduction) should not be repeated again,' Mr Aisawa said.

The three Japanese hostages kidnapped in Iraq, were released at 3.30pm of April 15, next to Kubiesi Mosque at Ameria District. The Japanese embassy had an anonymous phone call from an Iraqi to come and pick the hostages up. The freed Japanese hostages - two aid workers and a journalist - were handed over to Islamic clerics in Baghdad after being held for a week. This wave of kidnapping could have harvested another two Japanese citizens, but 'still the reports did not confirm that,' Mitsugu Saito, Minister at the Japanese Embassy in Abu Dhabi told Khaleej Times.

In a video footage of the scene, showed by an Arab news channel, Takato and her colleagues, Noriaki Imai and Soichiro Koriyama, were in good health. The crisis was a horrifying test for the Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's concerning the US-led coalition in Iraq.

The three hostages - Noriaki Imai, 18, a freelance journalist; Soichiro Koriyama, 32, a freelance photographer; and Nahoko Takato, 34, an aid worker - were seemingly abducted while they were travelling from Amman to Baghdad.

The wave of kidnapping might not be beneficial for the Iraqis in a direct way, but indirectly it is causing many problems for countries with troops in Iraq. In Japan several demonstrations and protest called for the withdrawal of the Japanese forces in Iraq. Opinion polls showed most Japanese were against the Iraq war and also opposed to the deployment of troops. The same goes for Italy, the Italians were heated against their intervention in Iraq after killing one of the hostages abducted in Baghdad and the threats to kill the rest of them.

Meanwhile, during a conversation between Mr Aisawa and the freed hostages, Ms Takato said that she slept well on Thursday night and apologised for being the cause of worry among several people back home. Mr Imai thanked Mr Ichiro for taking time to see them and said that he earlier had lost his appetite and now, he has a hearty appetite. Mr Koriyama, for his part, apologised for causing some trouble, and stated that he was happy that he was not the only Japanese hostage as it would have been difficult if the two other hostages weren't around.

When asked by the Press if the three former Japanese hostages expressed their intentions to visit Iraq, Mr Aisawa said that there was no mention of such plan of the three Japanese citizens. during their conversation. He, however, cautioned the three freed Japanese hostages to exercise prudence in expressing their 'love and affection' for Iraq.

'It is important to consider seriously when and how they should express or act on such love and affection for Iraq,' Mr Aisawa was quoted as saying. When asked the reason for Japan's choice to take the freed Japanese hostages to Dubai, the spokesperson from the Japanese embassy in Jordan said it was due to two main reasons: the excellent healthcare in the emirate, and the good flight connections from Dubai to Osaka.

The spokesperson said that Mr Aisawa had declined to comment on a number of queries put forth by the Press such as the full details of the efforts prior to the release since a number of government officials and entities have co-operated with the Japanese embassy in Baghdad to free the hostages. He also refused to comment on questions such as who among the three hostages looked best, who was physically injured, will they will be transferred to a hotel, and will they organise a separate Press conference with the three freed hostages, among others.

The spokesperson, meanwhile, disclosed that there are 45 Japanese civilians in Iraq, while Japanese troops totalled over 500.

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