The Japanese government paid the Kyrgyz government a $3 million ransom for the release of four Japanese hostages in southern Kyrgyzstan in 1999, but it appears the money never reached the hostage takers, Japanese government sources said Saturday.

The ransom was transported in cash to Kyrgyzstan and handed to the Kyrgyz government, which had been mediating negotiations between the Japanese government and the hostage-takers, an Islamic militant group consisting of Uzbek rebels, the sources said.

The Japanese side’s subsequent investigations, however, have found that the militant group did not receive the ransom, and that the money might have been divided by members of the Kyrgyz administration under then President Askar Akayev, who has recently been deposed.

“Judging by information from Uzbekistan, not a cent was given to the hostage takers and we do not know where the money went,” one of the sources said.

On Aug. 23, 1999, four Japanese mining experts were abducted along with three Kyrgyz nationals in southern Kyrgyzstan.

All the hostages were released unharmed by Oct. 25 that year after Uzbekistan released about 300 rebel prisoners and pledged to halt attacks against those in Kyrgyzstan.

Immediately after the hostages were released, there was a series of reports saying Japan had paid a ransom, which the Japanese government flatly denied.

Yoshinori Katori, director general of the Consular Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, again denied Saturday that the Japanese government paid any ransom.

“We never yield to a ransom demand. We did not pay it in the Kyrgyz incident,” Katori told Kyodo News.

According to the sources, the Kyrgyz government, which was engaged in negotiations with the hostage takers, told the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo through the Japanese Embassy in Moscow that $3 million in ransom would be needed to win the release of the Japanese.

There was opposition within the government to paying the ransom, with some officials saying the amount was too high, the sources said. But then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi decided to pay the ransom as he placed priority on saving the hostages’ lives, they said.

The money was initially disbursed from the diplomatic discretionary funds of the Foreign Ministry, which are known as the “secret” funds, and the matter was later settled in the form of official development assistance for Kyrgyzstan in the fiscal 2000 budget, the sources said.

Japan’s fiscal 2000 aid budget included 800 million yen in grant aid to Kyrgyzstan.

The $3 million was delivered in cash by Japanese officials to the Kyrgyzstan government because there were not enough dollar bills reserved in Kyrgyzstan, according to the sources.

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