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Saturday, March 13, 2004

Hapless hikers earn Iraq police shakedown, Tokyo's wrath


Staff writer

Two young Japanese travelers wandering in southern Iraq earned the wrath of top government officials Friday, after they were temporarily detained and interrogated by local police.

Local security authorities, not to mention the Japanese government, have been extremely sensitive about possible attacks by terrorists or insurgents in the city of Samawah, where Ground Self-Defense Force troops are deployed.

Accordingly, initial reports Thursday night that two Japanese nationals had been detained in the city sent shock waves through the government establishment, and there were audible sighs of relief when it was soon confirmed that they had been released.

"(The Foreign Ministry) has issued a travel advisory calling on (all Japanese citizens) to leave this region," a visibly irate Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a regular news conference Friday morning.

"I don't think people should be going on pleasure trips" to Iraq.

According to Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, Iraqi police have urged residents to report to them if they see strangers in Samawah in an effort to curb potential terrorist activity.

The two Japanese in question are apparently backpackers, the Foreign Ministry said, adding that one is in his 20s while the other is in his 30s.

The two men claimed to be college students who had entered Samawah after staying in Jordan and Baghdad, according to ministry officials.

The pair were detained by Iraqi police Thursday afternoon, but were released before 5 p.m. the same day, the ministry said.

"If they are adults, they should behave so that they don't cause trouble to others," Koizumi told reporters Friday when asked about the incident.

Indeed, any Japanese casualty in Samawah would spell trouble for the Japanese government.

The government dispatched the SDF to Samawah to conduct humanitarian and reconstruction activities, insisting that it is a relatively safe area in the strife-torn country.

The special law that allows the SDF to be sent to Iraq stipulates that Japanese soldiers can be stationed only in "noncombat zones."



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