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Japan Will Not Withdraw Troops from Iraq, Despite Kidnapping of 3 Civilians - 2004-04-08

Iraqi insurgents have kidnapped three Japanese civilians and are threatening to kill them unless Japan withdraws its troops from Iraq. Japan says there is no reason to pull its forces out of Iraq.

Task forces have been set up in Tokyo at the prime minister's office and the Foreign Ministry to deal with what is evolving into the biggest crisis the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has faced in its two-and-a-half years in office.

Japan's government says it is working with the United States and other coalition partners in Iraq to find out more about the previously unknown Iraqi group, the Mujahideen Brigades, that reportedly says it will kill its three Japanese hostages if Japan does not agree to withdraw its peace-keeping troops from Iraq within three days.

A defiant government spokesman, Yasuo Fukuda, says the Japanese troops in southern Iraq are going nowhere.

Mr. Fukuda, the chief cabinet secretary, says Japan will demand that the three be safely released. He says their apparent abduction is an unforgivable act.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi says she learned of the kidnappings through a call to the ministry from the Arabic-language satellite television channel, Al-Jazeera, saying it would soon be broadcasting videotape of two kidnapped men and one woman.

The foreign minister says she is dispatching Vice Foreign Minister Ichiro Aizawa to Jordan Friday afternoon, to coordinate efforts in the Middle East to gain the safe release of the hostages.

The Al-Jazeera footage of the three civilians, blindfolded and surrounded by gunmen, is being continually rebroadcast on Japanese television.

The videotape shows the hostages' passports and other identification. The three are identified as 33-year-old Nahoko Takato, a woman volunteer doing aid work with Iraqi children; 32-year-old freelance journalist Soichiro Koriyama; and 18-year-old Noriaki Imai, who graduated from high school in northern Japan just last month.