Government scrambles for info on hostages and captors

by

The government continued Saturday trying to gather information on the whereabouts of three Japanese nationals taken hostage in Iraq and details of their captors.

With a presumed Sunday-night deadline approaching, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi received briefings from senior government officials at his residence in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo.

During a meeting at the Foreign Ministry, attended by Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, officials agreed to continue appealing to the captors via local media by asserting that the Self-Defense Forces are in Iraq for humanitarian purposes.

Embassy officials in Baghdad interviewed a South Korean missionary who may have been with the Japanese hostages when he was kidnapped, but his remarks failed to confirm that he had been with the Japanese, a senior official said.

The ministry is urging the South Korean government to allow its officials to interview other South Koreans who were taken prisoner and later released, he said.

Embassy officials in Amman were trying to contact a taxi driver who drove the three to Iraq, the official said, adding that the Jordanian driver appeared to have been working on a freelance basis.

Arab satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera aired video footage Thursday night of the blindfolded hostages being held at gunpoint.

The hostages are Noriaki Imai, 18, a freelance writer; Soichiro Koriyama, 32, a freelance photo journalist; and volunteer worker Nahoko Takato, 34. The captors threatened to kill the hostages if Japan will not withdraw the Self-Defense Forces within three days of the video being aired.