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Saturday, April 17, 2004

Koizumi can't believe pair want to go back

By Reiji Yoshida Staff Writer Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed disbelief Friday that two of the three Japanese hostages recently released in Iraq want to return to the country to continue their activities.

"No matter how much goodwill they might have had, how can they say such a thing after a large number of people have made desperate efforts to rescue them?" he asked.

"I'd like them to have a sense of responsibility," a grim-faced Koizumi told reporters.

The three are Noriaki Imai, 18, an aspiring freelance writer; Soichiro Koriyama, 32, a freelance photojournalist; and volunteer aid worker Nahoko Takato, 34.

Koriyama and Takato expressed their willingness to continue their activities in Iraq in an interview after the release, which was aired by Japanese TV stations nationwide.

Koizumi's comment echoed views expressed by many frustrated government officials and ruling party lawmakers, who have criticized the three for entering Iraq despite repeated government travel warnings to stay out.

"It seems that they want to go to Iraq again, but if so, I'd like to urge them to be more self-reliant and not cause any further trouble to the Japanese government, related parties and people of Iraq," trade minister Shoichi Nakagawa told a Friday news conference.

The hostage crisis rocked the government over the past week, particularly as the captors had threatened to kill the three unless Tokyo pulls out the Self-Defense Forces troops now deployed to Iraq on a humanitarian mission.

If any of the three had been killed, it would have dealt a heavy -- if not critical -- political blow to the Koizumi administration, whose decision to support the U.S.-led war on Iraq and the SDF dispatch for postconflict reconstruction have sharply divided public opinion.

The hostage crisis has prompted peace activists and opposition lawmakers calling for withdrawal of the SDF since April 8, when Qatar-based TV station Al-Jazeera broke the news by airing video footage sent by the hostage-takers.

"I'd like them to treasure their rescued lives," said Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi Friday morning.

"Their wish to contribute to the Iraqi people is great, but they owe much to lots of people who have supported them."



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