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Japan Seeks to End Hostage Crisis - 2004-04-10


A senior Japanese diplomat has arrived in the Middle East to coordinate efforts to rescue three kidnapped Japanese citizens.

Senior Vice Foreign Minister Ichiro Aisawa told reporters in Amman, Jordan Saturday, that Japan would try to find every possible way to win the freedom of the hostages.

Mr. Aisawa was speaking at the Japanese Embassy, where he will be coordinating the rescue efforts.

The kidnappers have threatened to burn their captives alive unless Japan withdraws its forces within three days. The hostages' families have pleaded with their government to give in to the demands of the Iraqi insurgents by the Sunday deadline.

But Mr. Aisawa said he would seek other ways of resolving the crisis. The Japanese government says the demand to end the country's humanitarian mission is not under consideration.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard warned Saturday, that withdrawing coalition troops from Iraq would only spark more kidnappings. He told reporters in Canberra that it is doubly important that the tactic not be allowed to succeed.

On Friday, thousands of protesters staged a night-time vigil outside the residence of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to urge the government to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

The Japanese prime minister called an emergency meeting of his cabinet Friday to discuss a formal response, but a government spokesman said there has been no contact with the kidnappers. No details have been made public about where the hostages are being held or when they were captured.

Television networks in Japan have repeatedly aired dramatic video of the three hostages moaning in terror as their Iraqi captors menaced them with knives. A previously unknown group released the videotape of the victims: two men and one woman.

In addition to the three Japanese hostages, Iraqi insurgents are believed to be holding one Canadian aid worker, a British national, a Palestinian and an Israeli Arab. A spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says he has personally intervened to seek the release of the two Arab hostages.

On Thursday, a group of Iraqis released seven South Korean missionaries after taking them hostage in southern Iraq. An eighth South Korean captive managed to escape.

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