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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Imperial army holdouts emerge

40 others besides pair may still be in Mindanao jungle: report


Staff writer

Tokyo was trying Friday to arrange a meeting with two men who may be Imperial Japanese Army soldiers who had been hiding on Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines since World War II, government officials said.

News photo
Wakako Nakauchi, sister-in-law of Imperial Japanese Army soldier Tsuzuki Nakauchi, looks at his grave Friday in the town of Ochi, Kochi Prefecture. Media reports have said he is alive in the Philippines.
KOCHI SHIMBUN PHOTO/KYODO

Japanese Embassy officials in Manila headed Friday morning to General Santos City on Mindanao after receiving information from a Japanese the day before that there were two men there claiming to be Imperial army soldiers, a Japanese official who briefed reporters said.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry meanwhile said it had information that four Japanese soldiers were on Mindanao.

The two men may be Yoshio Yamakawa, 87, and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, 85, although Foreign Ministry officials said they would not reveal their identities until embassy officials met with the two. Yamakawa and Nakauchi are officially registered as war dead.

News photo
Imperial Japanese Army soldier Tsuzuki Nakauchi poses on a horse.
PHOTO COURTESY OF NAKAUCHI'S RELATIVES/KYODO

The two belonged to the army's 30th Division.

Yamakawa's registered address is in Osaka Prefecture, while Nakauchi's residence is listed in Kochi Prefecture.

"I have heard that the two men want to return to Japan, but I can't say for certain until officials meet them in person," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The two men and the mediator had refused to meet the Japanese diplomats Friday.

The government has implied that the men might be scared by the large number of Japanese reporters who have flown to General Santos to cover the story.

"The mediator seems to be shocked" by the number of journalists, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference.

"Arrangements are being made to meet with the two, but the time of this meeting still hasn't been decided."

The Foreign Ministry asked for the reporters' cooperation, specifically not to follow embassy officials, so the diplomats and the two men can meet "in a quiet environment."

The health ministry said it received information last year from a civic group collecting the remains of Japanese soldiers killed during the war that there are four Japanese soldiers on or near Mindanao.

Three of them are believed to be in the mountains of Cagayan province and another on the island of Balut, south of Mindanao, according to the ministry.

The civic group submitted a petition to health minister Hidehisa Otsuji in February, asking for ministry cooperation in searching for them.

The ministry then asked the Foreign Ministry to investigate.

But it was not until Thursday that the embassy received more details.

The Sankei Shimbun on Friday quoted an unidentified source as saying there were around 40 Japanese soldiers still living on Mindanao, all of them hoping to return home.

The Philippines, invaded by Japan in 1941, was the scene of heavy fighting at the end of the war as the military, fiercely loyal to the emperor, fought U.S. troops throughout the country, which has thousands of islands.

The two are believed to have documents verifying they belonged to the Imperial army, the official said.

Media reports say the pair had been living in guerrilla-controlled mountains near General Santos until one or two weeks ago. It is not known if they know of Japan's August 1945 surrender, according to the reports.

Japanese government sources said the two had contacted a Japanese national who was on the island gathering the remains of Japanese soldiers.

Imperial army intelligence officer Hiroo Onoda, now 83, was found hiding in the jungle on Lubang Island in 1974, about 30 years after being sent to the island. He returned to Japan in March 1974 and emigrated to Brazil the next year.

Soldier Shoichi Yokoi was found on Guam in 1972. He also returned to Japan and died in 1997. Both he and Yokoi didn't know of Japan's defeat.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Friday evening that he was surprised to hear the news that two Japanese soldiers were found alive on Mindanao.

"If this is true, it would be astonishing," Koizumi told reporters at his official residence, adding he has not been given detailed information.

"I'm interested in what kind of life they lived," he said, adding that if the information is confirmed, the government would like to handle their cases in a favorable manner.

Koizumi said the news gave him a similar surprise as when Yokoi and Onoda were found alive during the 1970s.

Information from wire reports added.



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