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Japan Confirms Release of Remaining 2 Hostages in Iraq - 2004-04-17

The Japanese government has confirmed that the remaining two Japanese hostages in Iraq have been freed.

Video was broadcast of the two freed Japanese, showing them being handed over by the Muslim Clerics Association to a Japanese diplomat at a mosque in Baghdad. The diplomat then took them to Japan's embassy.

At the mosque, a Japanese diplomat handed Sunni clerics a message from Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, expressing her gratitude for their help in freeing all five Japanese held hostage in Iraq.

One of the two freed on Saturday, freelance journalist Junpei Yasuda, says the two were suspected of being U.S. spies, but he says they did not feel their lives were in danger because they were treated well.

"We were released today," he said. "So, we are very glad and, how to say, thank you for everyone."

The other person freed Saturday, peace activist Nobutaka Watanabe passed on a message from the kidnappers to the Japanese people, for Japanese troops to be removed from Iraq, and for attention to be focused on casualties caused by the U.S.-led military coalition.

"Many died because American troops attacked to Fallujah," said Nobutaka Watanabe. "Many people, many Iraqi people died here in this country. It's a problem."

He said the insurgents also warned Japanese not to come to Iraq, and vowed to continue battling the United States and Britain, whom they called their enemies.

Japan's Foreign Ministry says it does not know who abducted Mr. Yasuda and Mr. Watanabe. Three other Japanese nationals abducted by a group calling itself "Saraya Al-Mujahideen" were released in Baghdad on Thursday, after being held for one week.

Those three were in Dubai Saturday undergoing health checks and debriefings by Japanese officials. They released a statement expressing gratitude to those who helped win their freedom, and apologized for the trouble they caused. They are expected back in Japan on Sunday.

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq says some 40 foreigners from at least 12 countries are still being held hostage in the country, including an American soldier shown on videotape.

While government officials are expressing joy that all five Japanese were released safely, there is some consternation over comments made by some of them that they want to return to Iraq. There has also been criticism of their having put themselves in danger.

The Foreign Ministry and some politicians say the hostages or their families will be asked to reimburse the government for some of the large amount of taxpayer money spent to secure their freedom.