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Japanese Officials Say Hostages in Iraq Will Soon Be Free - 2004-04-11


Japanese officials say three Japanese citizens held hostage in Iraq will be released early today.

The officials, quoted by the Kyodo news agency, say they received information from Iraqi authorities that the captives would be freed unharmed.

On Saturday, the Arabic television station Al-Jazeera reported the kidnappers agreed to free their captives in response to an appeal from Iraqi Muslim clerics. The kidnappers had threatened to burn the hostages alive unless Japan withdrew its forces from Iraq by today.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said he would not give in to the kidnappers' demands. Japan has about 500 non-combat troops in Iraq working on reconstruction.

Al-Jazeera also aired a recording Saturday from kidnappers who said they would kill an American hostage if U.S. forces did not pull out of Fallujah. The station showed footage of the hostage, who is believed to be a U.S. civilian abducted Friday near Baghdad.

Another Iraqi group says it is holding 30 Japanese, Bulgarian, Israeli, American, Spanish and South Korean hostages and says they will kill them unless U.S. forces end their blockade of Fallujah.

Meanwhile, the German government says two of its security workers are missing in Iraq and may be dead. Reports say the men disappeared after their convoy was attacked earlier this week.

A ministry spokesperson says there is "no evidence" to suggest a kidnapping, but could not rule out that the two may be dead.

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