Tsuneoka says captors grew tired of holding him, failing to get ransom

by Natsuko Fukue

Fresh from his release in Afghanistan, freelance journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka said Tuesday in Tokyo he was probably freed after five months in captivity because his abductors’ demands for ransom failed.

“I always spent time with them, and I didn’t see any indication of success” that the militants were able to extort a payment, Tsuneoka, 41, told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Tsuneoka was taken prisoner April 1 in northern Afghanistan and was released Saturday.

His captors demanded a ransom from the Japanese Embassy in Kabul, but Tsuneoka said the embassy did not pay any money for his release.

The militants also negotiated with the Afghan government, but the journalist said he doesn’t know whether Kabul paid them any money.

“It must have been a burden to keep an eye on me during Ramadan,” which started Aug. 11 this year and runs until this Thursday, he added.

Tsuneoka, who is a Muslim and speaks some Persian, said he was captured by factions in Kunduz and Takhar provinces under the control of commanders close to the Afghan government, and not Taliban as Afghan security officials claimed in June. He said this indicates the Afghan government doesn’t have any control over the area.

Tsuneoka said his captors told him during the first few weeks of his captivity they were the Hizb-i-Islami militant group. Then they started saying they were Taliban in a bid to extort money from the Japanese government, he said.

“I was ordered to tell the Japanese Embassy (by mobile phone) that I was kidnapped by Taliban, not Hizb-i-Islami” in early April, he said.

Although he thought he would be killed in mid-June when the factions demanded that the Japanese government to respond to their request in three days, they did nothing after the deadline, and he said he started to feel he would survive the ordeal.

Tsuneoka said his guards were friendly, visiting him at a civilian’s home regularly to chat.

“They were not aware that they were committing a crime,” he said, adding he was usually served food three times a day.

He posted a message Friday on his Twitter account saying “I am still alive, but in jail” in English.

“I could access the Internet because (one of the guards) had a mobile phone,” he said.

Because the soldier didn’t know how to use it, Tsuneoka was told to instruct him and managed to get on the Internet through a local telecommunications company, he said.

“I said Twitter is important. . . . Then he told me to access (the website).”

Tsuneoka thought he could safely post a comment in English. “Besides, I wasn’t deceiving them. All I told them was the truth,” he said.

During his five months in captivity, he said he never met anyone who supported the government led by President Hamid Karzai.

Financial aid from overseas, including Japan, is spent on government-controlled areas, which amounts to only 10 to 20 percent of the country, which is widening the wealth disparity, Tsuneoka said.

One of the captors told him there is no hospital in Archi, a town in Kunduz Province, where he stayed. “He asked me, ‘Can’t Japan help us?’ “