House of Representatives lawmaker Muneo Suzuki instructed a Foreign Ministry official to secretly make contact with Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in 1999, in an effort to secure the release of four Japanese engineers who had been abducted by Islamic rebels in Kyrgyzstan that summer, it was learned Saturday.

The Taliban were believed to have influence over the hostage-takers. Although the kidnapping was resolved without bringing the Taliban into the matter, sources close to the case said the incident increased Suzuki’s influence over Japan’s diplomatic policy in Central Asia.

Suzuki’s supporters have denied the allegations, saying that nothing of the sort happened. Formerly a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the lawmaker left the party last month after a string of allegations that he exerted excessive and improper influence over the Foreign Ministry.

According to several government officials familiar with the case, immediately after the abduction of the four Japanese nationals — mining engineers dispatched by Japan’s Metal Mining Agency — in late August, Suzuki instructed a member of Japan’s embassy in Uzbekistan to try to make contact with the Taliban regime. Suzuki and the embassy official had been acquainted for years, the sources said.

Tahir Yuldash, leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which abducted the four, was in Kabul at the time, and it was believed that the hostages might be released through negotiations mediated by the Taliban, according to the sources.

The embassy official used personal contacts to approach a Taliban minister in early September and received a “positive signal” that the Taliban regime would cooperate. Because of the secrecy of the meetings in Kabul, the details of the discussions were never laid out during the official negotiations, conducted through Japan’s embassy in Islamabad, for the hostages’ release, the sources said.

Instead, the embassy official is said to have reported directly to top Foreign Ministry officials and Suzuki.

In late September, however, the ministry determined that solving the matter through the government of neighboring Tajikistan, which had influence over the IMU, would be more effective, and it did not follow up on the Taliban route, the sources said. The hostages were released in October.

The sources added that the hostage affair was the point from which Suzuki’s influence over Japan’s Central Asia diplomacy increased. He later pressured the Foreign Ministry to change its plan to set up an embassy in Kyrgyzstan to establishing one in Tajikistan, the sources said. The Tajik embassy opened in January this year.

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