Japan sought international help Wednesday to secure the
release of a Japanese man taken hostage in Iraq and
pledged to do its utmost to gain his freedom after
refusing to bow to the kidnappers' threat to behead him
unless Japan withdraws its troops from Iraq.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi voiced his resolve to
save Shosei Koda, 24, telling reporters, "We must rescue
him by taking all possible measures." He made the remark
in reference to Japan's calls for cooperation from about
25 countries, including Iraq's neighbors, over the
rescue of the hostage.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
"reiterated our pledge to do whatever we can to assist
Japan's efforts to resolve the situation," State
Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday.
Powell discussed the issue with Foreign Minister
Nobutaka Machimura on the phone last night, Boucher
"We also welcome Prime Minister Koizumi's unequivocal
statement that Japan would not withdraw Japanese forces
from Iraq and that Japan will not yield to terrorism,"
"Japan's Self-Defense Forces are carrying out a vital
humanitarian effort in Iraq," he said. "That effort
benefits the Iraqi people as they seek to reconstruct
Machimura told reporters late Wednesday that he called
on Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to help
settle the hostage crisis in telephone talks.
Allawi was quoted by Machimura as saying Iraq is a
"friend" of Japan and will do its utmost to that end.
Machimura similarly pressed the case for Koda's safe
release during a series of telephone conversations with
his counterparts in Britain, Iraq and the United States,
Foreign Ministry officials said.
Machimura kept silent about whether the Japanese
government has made direct contact with the captors,
saying "It would be inappropriate to say anything
concrete for now."
A Japanese government source signaled some negotiations
involving Japan and the hostage-takers might be under
way as day breaks in Iraq.
Koizumi, meanwhile, rejected the captors' demand for the
withdrawal of SDF troops from Iraq, saying earlier in
the day "The SDF will not withdraw...We cannot allow
terrorism to prevail and cannot bow to terrorism." He
made the comments during a visit to typhoon-hit areas in
Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture.
The hostage crisis broke when a video of Koda being held
captive by a group of Islamic militants and statements
were posted on a website around 2 a.m. Wednesday Japan
time. The captors threatened to behead Koda unless Japan
withdrew the SDF from Iraq within 48 hours.
Iraqi Ambassador to Japan Ghanim al-Jumaily said he is
committed to helping Japan to resolve the crisis,
telling reporters that Iraq is "trying to do as much as
possible to secure the release of the kidnapped."
But the Iraqi envoy said that prospects for immediate
contact with Koda's captors appeared dim. When asked
about the possibility, he said, "At this point, no."
The Iraqi ambassador made the remarks after meeting with
Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Yukio Takeuchi at the
The 25 countries to which Japan is turning for help
include Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, South Korea,
the United States and Britain, a senior Foreign Ministry
official said on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Shuzen Tanigawa
and an emergency police counterterrorism team left for
the Jordanian capital of Amman to lead Japan's ad hoc
task force dealing with the case.
Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Hatsuhisa Takashima,
who serves as the ministry's chief spokesman, indicated
the Japanese government believes the 48-hour deadline
expires at around 2 a.m. Friday Japan time or 8 p.m.
Thursday Iraq time.
Although the incident occurred ahead of a decision on
whether to maintain hundreds of SDF troops in Iraq
beyond their Dec. 14 deadline, Japan quickly separated
the two matters and focused on efforts to free Koda, who
is from Fukuoka Prefecture.
"The government is concerned about Mr. Koda who is a
civilian with no relation either with the government or
the SDF, and who has been taken hostage," Koizumi told a
Diet session in the afternoon.
"The SDF is working for humanitarian aid and
reconstruction aid for the Iraqi people...I would like
to continue striving to have Japan's ideas understood
and Mr. Koda released as soon as possible," he said.
Foreign Minister Machimura urged the hostage-takers to
release Koda, saying that Japan is a "friend of Iraq,"
in interviews with foreign media organizations including
the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite news channel,
according to Japanese Foreign Ministry officials.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda declined to
comment on the impact of the hostage crisis, coupled
with a recent incident in which a dud rocket was fired
into the SDF camp in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah,
on the deployment of the SDF troops.
"I would wait until the hostage incident settles. It
occurred obviously in a very distant place
geographically," the top government spokesman said.
The government still has no information on where Koda
was captured but learned that he entered Iraq from
Jordan during the past week, Hosoda said.
Early Wednesday, the government set up a task force in
Tokyo as well, consisting of five ministers headed by
Hosoda, and reaffirmed Koizumi's instructions at their
Koda's parents sent a fax message to Koizumi and
Machimura later Wednesday, asking the government to
rescue their son at an early date, according to
officials of the city of Nogata, Koda's hometown in
The ruling parties supported the government's policy,
while the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan also
decided to oppose a troop pullout, although the party is
basically opposed to the SDF's Iraq dispatch.
The government also issued a fresh warning to Japanese
citizens against visiting Iraq and urged those still in
Iraq to leave immediately.
Koda is said to have been traveling in many countries,
Hosoda said. Earlier in the day, he noted the government
has repeatedly issued a travel advisory warning against
going to Iraq.
Machimura also questioned the necessity for Koda's trip,
given the poor security situation.
"An evacuation advisory has been repeatedly issued and
he must have been fully aware of the danger. I really
find it hard to understand why he has traveled there,"
Machimura told reporters after the task force meeting at
the premier's office.
Defense Agency Director General Yoshinori Ono, National
Public Safety Commission Chairman Yoshitaka Murata and
Justice Minister Chieko Nono also attended the task
Vice Foreign Minister Takeuchi told U.S. Ambassador to
Japan Howard Baker on the phone that Japan has no plans
to withdraw its troops, and the U.S. envoy expressed
support for the Japanese policy, according to the