The Japanese government has confirmed the release of all four Japanese nationals captured by Islamic rebels two months ago in Kyrgyzstan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said Monday.
The top government spokesman said the four Japanese — mining engineers Nobuhisa Nakajima, 49, Hirotaro Fujii, 47, Haruo Harada, 38 and Toshiaki Ariie, 58 — were handed over to Japanese officials in Karamyk, southern Kyrgystan, in good health.
Aoki said the Japanese government did not pay ransom for the hostages, adding that he believes the Kyrgyz government did not pay ransom either.
“There were no conditions (to the release of the hostages),” Aoki said.
Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi expressed relief and thanked the Kyrgyz government for its efforts to resolve the crisis.
“I have been longing for the hostages’ early release,” Obuchi said. “I am very glad that they were released and that their health was not bad.”
When asked whether the four Japanese were believed to have been abducted because of their nationality, Aoki said, “I believe the Japanese government will be able to get more accurate information when the four Japanese come back to Japan.”
The engineers, held hostage for more than two months by Islamic rebels in Tajikistan, were freed early Monday, according to a spokesman for Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, Kanybek Imanaliyev.
The Japanese and their Kyrgyz interpreter arrived in Bishkek on Monday after a long journey that routed them through the Kyrgyz cities of Karamyk, which lies on the border with Tajikistan, and Batken.
They had been freed in Jirgatel, Tajikistan, from where they were taken by car to Karamyk. From there they were flown by helicopter to Batken, where they boarded a plane for the final leg of their journey to safety.
The five appeared to be unharmed but were taken to a hospital for medical checks. The Japanese will leave for Japan as early as today, Japanese sources said.
“We have confirmed they are safe,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki told a news conference in Tokyo. “It is extremely delightful that the four are now under safe protection.”
Aoki stressed that the government has handled the incident with the greatest care, and that the hostages’ safety has been the guiding priority.
The government will take several measures to prevent such incidents from recurring, Aoki said.
Following Aoki’s news conference, Vice Foreign Minister Yutaka Kawashima said he had tried to be “extremely prudent” about the reports on the hostages’ release until they were finally placed under the protection of Japanese officials in Karamyk.
“I had thought the odds were fifty-fifty until we successfully completed the transfer of the hostages,” Kawashima said. “As is often the case with these abductions, the largest risk is involved in the transfer of hostages.”
Kawashima, who heads the government’s emergency headquarters set up at the Foreign Ministry to deal with the kidnappings, said he appreciates the Kyrgyz government’s negotiation efforts.
“Since the abduction occurred in August, the Kyrgyz government has done its utmost to secure the hostages’ release,” he said. “The two governments maintained close contact in advancing negotiations.”
The ministry, however, refrained from going into details of the negotiations between the Kyrgyz government and the Islamic rebels, saying disclosing information could trigger similar abductions.
Relatives hailed the hostage’s safe release and thanked those whose efforts made it possible. “Thank you very much. Thank you very much for the safe release,” Kunie Ariie, mother of 58-year-old hostage Toshiaki Ariie, told reporters as she repeatedly bowed.
“I’m sorry to trouble everybody,” the mother said at the entrance of her home in Gifu Prefecture.
Yasuhiko Harada, father of 38-year-old Haruhiko Harada, smiled as he spoke to reporters from his home in Nagano. “I’m glad. As his parent, I’m pleased with his release,” he said after crying with joy and shaking hands with his neighbors.
“I was so worried. Now, I want him to come back as soon as possible, and I want to see his joyful face. Thank you very much.”
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