Yemen captors free engineer

Eight-day ordeal over for Japanese linked to JICA, local driver

by Masami Ito and Jun Hongo

A Japanese engineer abducted by armed Yemeni tribesmen Nov. 15 was freed early Tuesday Japan time along with his local driver, government officials said in Tokyo.

Takeo Mashimo, 63, who was working on a government-affiliated project, appeared to be in good health, the Foreign Ministry announced.

“I am relieved to have been safely released,” Mashimo reportedly said over the phone after he was freed. “Please tell my family that I am O.K.”

Mashimo had been working on a school project funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. He and his Yemeni driver were ambushed while they were on their way to the construction site in Arhab, about 60 km northeast of San’a.

“I was held captive in a house. It was really tough,” Mashimo said of his eight-day ordeal.

Mashimo, an employee of the Tokyo-based consultancy Mohri, Architect & Associates Inc., has been living in San’a for more than a year while working on the JICA project. He used his cell phone to call the Japanese Embassy to report he had been taken captive.

The kidnappers demanded the release of a 22-year-old relative who has been imprisoned and negotiations were held between the tribesmen and Yemen authorities mediated by tribal leaders. According to media reports, the sheiks promised the kidnappers they would urge the government to free the relative as soon as possible.

Later in the day, Mashimo arrived at the regional governor’s office escorted by a long convoy of vehicles carrying scores of armed tribesmen from Arhab after tough negotiations between chieftains and the kidnappers.

“We have given them our word that we will support their case and press the government to either put on trial or release their relative,” an Arhab tribal leader who took part in the mediation efforts said outside the governor’s office.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed relief over Mashimo’s release.

Information from Kyodo added