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The Foreign Ministry, in charge of ensuring the safety of Japanese citizens overseas, is powerless to stop them from entering Iraq, despite a series of kidnappings there involving Japanese and other people this year.

The ministry stressed Wednesday that it had tried in vain to contact Shosei Koda, who was reportedly taken hostage by an Islamic extremist group, to persuade him to leave Iraq.

The ministry received information Oct. 20 that he was staying in Baghdad and attempted to get in touch with him via Japanese embassies in the region.

Ministry officials also called Koda’s father Friday and urged him to persuade Koda to leave the country if he called his home in Fukuoka Prefecture. Koda did not contact his family.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura appeared irritated Wednesday when he heard that Koda was simply a traveler. “High-level travel warnings have been issued many times and the risk is obvious,” Machimura told reporters. “It is hard to understand why he went” to Iraq.

The Foreign Ministry issued a fresh warning Wednesday, urging Japanese nationals not to enter Iraq “under any circumstance.” Those already in Iraq have been asked to leave immediately.

Lawmakers and government officials were critical of five Japanese taken hostage in Iraq, including NGO workers and freelance journalists, who had entered the country despite repeated government advisories against traveling there. Some even suggested that the government introduce tougher legal measures to prohibit people from going to troubled areas.

But Foreign Ministry officials argue there is a limit to what the government can do when a Japanese national is trying to enter a country for which the government has already issued the highest travel warning.

“The Constitution guarantees its nationals the freedom of travel, and even if we ban it there are always a certain number of people who will not obey it,” a senior ministry official said.

Officials at the Japanese embassies in Baghdad and Amman are gathering information on Japanese travelers heading for Iraq in an effort to persuade them not to enter the war-torn country.

Embassy staff in Amman, the usual jumping-off point for travelers heading to Iraq, are posting travel warnings at hotels where Japanese tend to stay.

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