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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008

Aid worker found slain in Afghanistan

Staff writer

A Japanese Embassy official in Afghanistan confirmed Wednesday that a body found earlier in the day was that of kidnapped Japanese aid worker Kazuya Ito, the Foreign Ministry said.

News photo
Kazuya Ito

Police found the body, reportedly riddled with bullets, in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province. Ito had been abducted near Jalalabad, the capital of the province, the previous day. The body was identified late Wednesday after being sent to Jalalabad, ministry officials said.

Ito, 31, was working in Afghanistan for the Japan-based nongovernmental organization Peshawar-kai. Earlier, the Taliban, a fundamentalist Muslim movement that once controlled much of the country, had claimed responsibility for Ito's kidnapping.

Before the embassy confirmation, Ito's colleagues at Peshawar-kai had said from the group's headquarters in Fukuoka that a medical staffer in Afghanistan who saw the body had identified it as that of Ito.

According to Senior Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ichita Yamamoto, the embassy in Kabul received notification of the recovery of the body from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan at about 2 p.m. Japan time.

Yamamoto refused to confirm reports of Taliban involvement in the kidnapping, saying the ministry is aware of the various reports but has not been able to verify any of them.

According to the ministry, Ito was kidnapped together with his local driver between 6:30 and 7 a.m. Tuesday local time near Jalalabad. The abduction came to light after the embassy obtained information from a local U.N. group and verified it with Peshawar-kai.

The government set up a headquarters at the embassy as well as a liaison office in the Prime Minister's Official Residence in Tokyo, but there was little the government could do other than await developments from Afghanistan.

News photo
Fearing the worst: Masayuki Ito faces reporters outside his home in Kakegawa, Shizuoka Prefecture, Wednesday before his son, Kazuya, was confirmed dead in Afghanistan. KYODO PHOTO

The Foreign Ministry had announced Tuesday evening that the Afghan government confirmed Ito's liberation but retracted the announcement an hour later.

According to the ministry, Ito, a Shizuoka Prefecture native, was involved in agricultural projects in Afghanistan after joining Peshawar-kai in December 2003.

Peshawar-kai is based in Fukuoka and was established in 1983. The group has set up clinics in Pakistan and Afghanistan to provide social welfare assistance in the war-torn region.

While the Japanese government has classified Afghanistan's security situation as unsafe, there were 149 Japanese staying in the country as of Tuesday and eight NGOs, according to the ministry.

The ministry's Consular Affairs Bureau has issued many warnings against traveling to Afghanistan, most recently Wednesday, advising Japanese in cities, including Kabul and Jalalabad, to evacuate the area and postpone scheduled trips.

The bureau has posted warnings of kidnappings in Afghanistan on its Web site, citing at least four cases of abductions of French and American NGO workers.

"The possibility of Japanese nationals being targeted for kidnapping cannot be denied, as the media has reported that the Taliban's spokesman said it would continue to abduct foreign nationals. Exceptional caution is required," the ministry's Web site said.

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The Japan Times

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