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Former Japanese Hostages Leave Iraq, 2 Others Missing - 2004-04-16


After the release of three Japanese hostages in Iraq, attention in Japan is now turning to the whereabouts of two additional missing Japanese last seen near Baghdad.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Friday said the government has no information about the fate of a freelance journalist and his roommate, a human rights activist. The two men disappeared Wednesday and e-mails sent from Baghdad quoting witnesses say the pair was kidnapped by insurgents.

Japan's Foreign Ministry says a task force at its embassy in Jordan is trying to obtain more information about Jumpei Yasuda, 30 and Nobutaka Watanabe, 36.

Meanwhile, three Japanese hostages released in Baghdad Thursday were on Friday flying to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. There they will be interviewed by Japanese government officials and undergo health checks.

Japanese officials say they expect them to return to an airport near Osaka on a commercial flight Sunday.

But two of the three say they want to stay in Iraq. Freelance photojournalist Soichiro Koriyama says he wants to stay to continue taking photographs, and volunteer aid worker Nahoko Takato has said she would like to continue her work with street children.

The comments irritated the prime minister.

Mr. Koizumi says many people in the government working for their rescue went without food and sleep. The released hostages should realize the sacrifices that others made for them.

The chief government spokesman, Yasuo Fukuda, says the three should come back to Japan, cool off and give serious thought to their plans.

Mr. Koizumi also says that despite the apparent kidnappings of five Japanese, the government remains committed to the reconstruction of Iraq by keeping Self Defense Force troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah.

Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba on Friday says the situation in that part of Iraq is stable and there is no need to withdraw Japanese troops. A special law passed to allow their dispatch to Iraq prevents the Self Defense Forces from being in war zones where there is active combat.

In a message Friday, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, expressed delight in hearing that the hostages have been safely released. The statement says that the United States congratulates the entire Japanese government, which "worked so hard to bring about this happy outcome."

Mr. Baker also offered U.S. cooperation to secure the release of the two other Japanese believed abducted.

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