• The Associated Press

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The harsh criticism that has been aimed at Japanese civilians taken hostage in Iraq stems from government resentment over their relatives’ calls for Tokyo to withdraw its troops from the country, one of the hostages said Tuesday.

Five Japanese civilians were taken captive in Iraq earlier this month in two incidents — one involving three hostages and a second involving two.

The kidnappers of the first group threatened to kill them unless Japan pulled its Self-Defense Forces out of southern Iraq.

The hostages’ family members urged Tokyo to meet this demand, but the government refused and all those captured were eventually released unharmed.

According to Nobutaka Watanabe, one of the two civilians taken hostage outside the besieged city of Fallujah, officials were angered by the families’ position.

“They felt these are people working against the Japanese government,” he told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. “I think it is this resentment that led to the bashing of the hostages.”

Some of the hostages have been vilified in weekly news magazines, while government officials have accused them of recklessly entering Iraq without proper security and imperiling Japanese policy.

Watanabe was taken hostage with freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda. The two, who said they were more like detainees than hostages, told reporters they were treated well by their captors.

The first three hostages taken have been the main focus of media coverage in Japan. Their kidnapping was announced in a video showing them blindfolded, kneeling before their heavily armed captors.

The kidnapping triggered an outpouring of concern for the hostages’ safety. This concern gave way to criticism, however, with many suggesting that the hostages themselves share part of the blame by going to a dangerous place.

Watanabe and Yasuda, however, said the families’ reaction was justified.

“Their captors made political demands, so the families had to respond in a political fashion,” Yasuda said.

Kashimura blasted Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda on Tuesday criticized Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Takeaki Kashimura for describing three Japanese who were taken hostage in Iraq earlier this month as “anti-Japan elements.”

“The remarks were inappropriate and cannot be justified,” the top government spokesman told a news conference, referring to a statement made the previous day by the House of Councilors member.

Kashimura voiced displeasure that the government had spent huge sums to rescue the three Japanese, though “some of them openly expressed opposition” to Japan’s dispatch of Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq.

“I cannot help feeling discomfort in or strongly against spending several billion yen of taxpayers’ money on such antigovernment, anti-Japan elements,” he told an Upper House committee.

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