Somali kidnappers release Japan doctor, Dutch nurse

by Jun Hongo

Somali kidnappers have freed a Japanese doctor and a Dutch nurse after holding them in captivity for more than three months, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

Keiko Akahane, 32, arrived at an airport in Nairobi at around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday local time, Japan’s ambassador to Kenya confirmed.

The embassy in Nairobi was told of her release two hours earlier by Paris-based medical charity Doctors of the World, for which Akahane works.

Akahane was kidnapped Sept. 22 along with Dutch nurse Wilhem Sools while providing medical aid in the Ogaden region in eastern Ethiopia near the Somali border, according to Doctors of the World.

A Somali group had reportedly demanded a ransom of $3 million after abducting the two, but the Foreign Ministry said it could not comment on whether a payment was made.

The Foreign Ministry said Akahane is currently in Nairobi, where she will be given a medical checkup, but she appeared to be in good physical condition.

“This kind of act cannot be justified under any reason,” Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said in a statement, adding that the government will work with the international community to bring security to the region.

The ministry said Akahane and Sools were released in Somalia but did not give details on the negotiation process.

A ministry official in charge of consular affairs acknowledged that Doctors of the World was in charge of negotiations with the kidnappers and that the government could not confirm the facts, such as who accompanied Akahane to Nairobi or what led the kidnappers to release their captives.

“We believe it would have been to the advantage of the kidnappers if the government had negotiated directly with them,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said, but added the government was not “completely” dependent on Doctors of the World.

“But we cannot reveal how exactly the government was involved,” he said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura also remained secretive about government participation in Akahane’s release.

Family relieved

NAGANO (Kyodo) The mother and older brother of kidnap victim Dr. Keiko Akahane were delighted Thursday at the news she was freed and in good condition in Kenya after 3 1/2 months in captivity in Somalia.

“I’d like to applaud her for tolerating the suffering for such a long time,” said her mother, Chieko Akahane, 64, speaking to reporters at a relative’s home in Ina, Nagano Prefecture.