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Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013

7 JGC workers in Algeria confirmed dead; three still missing


Staff writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in an emergency meeting late Monday night, announced that Tokyo has confirmed the deaths of seven Japanese workers, killed during hostage crisis at a natural gas complex in Algeria.

Abe said Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi saw and identified bodies of seven Japanese workers of Yokohama-based JGC Corp at a local hospital. Another three JGC workers still remain missing.

Later that evening Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga held a news conference in which he offered condolences for the "people who worked far away from their homes" fulfilling their duties on the gas project in the Sahara desert.

Suga also said the government, after consulting with JGC, decided not to disclose the names of the seven victims, considering the feelings of the bereaved families.

Immediately after the announcement, Abe also posted a message on his official Facebook page in which he mentions experiencing "heartbreaking grief" over the news of innocent Japanese citizens losing their lives in the four-day hostage crisis in Algeria.

Parliamentary Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi had visited a local hospital near the Ain Amenas natural gas complex in Algeria on Monday to determine what happened to 10 Japanese feared killed during the four-day hostage crisis in the Sahara.

In a separate new conference on Monday, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said 37 foreigners of eight different nationalities," were killed during the four-day siege. One Algerian also lost his life, bringing the giving an overall toll of 38, while five foreign foreigners were still missing", he added.

Kiuchi arrived at Ain Amenas around 10 p.m. Sunday Japan time aboard a special plane arranged by an Algerian energy company. He then headed for the gas plant with Algerian energy minister Youcef Yousfi, according to officials in Tokyo.

Kiuchi briefly inspected the plant. A senior official in Tokyo said Kiuchi is probably the first foreign government official to visit the Ain Amenas plant, which will now be known as the site of one of the worst international hostage crises in recent years.

JGC Corp. President Koichi Kawana accompanied Kiuchi, as 10 Japanese nationals of the Yokohama-based engineering company remained missing after the militants occupied the plant and took dozens of foreign hostages at the complex.

Kiuchi and Kawana visited the nearby hospital later Monday, suspecting they might find the bodies of some or all of the missing Japanese hostages.

As well as finding the corpses of 25 hostages, Algerian troops reportedly also captured five militants at the gas plant.

Algeria's government — the target of widespread foreign dismay last week at its decision to send in the army — warned that the final death toll would likely be higher, but was only set to give an official figure later Monday.

Governments scrambled to track down missing citizens as more details emerged after Saturday's final showdown between Algerian special forces and the extremists who took hundreds hostage. The militants were demanding an end to French military intervention in Mali.

No official images of the attack have been released. But survivors took photos, seen by AFP, showing bullet-riddled bodies, some with their heads half blown off.

AFP quoted an Algerian who escaped the ordeal and identified himself as Brahim. "They were brutally executed," he said, referring to Japanese victims gunned down by the hostage-takers.

An Algerian witness said he saw nine Japanese killed by the heavily armed Islamic militants.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga told reporters in Tokyo that Japan had not yet confirmed the news report about the nine as of Monday morning.

Kiuchi and Kawana joined the Algerian energy minister's inspection of the complex because the site is "not considered sufficiently safe," Suga said.

Algerian authorities were still reportedly checking facilities to ensure no more terrorists or bombs remain at the site.

"Workers have begun returning to the site, and the gas plants will be started up again in the next two days," Yousfi said during his visit to the complex.

Meanwhile, Japan plans to dispatch a government airplane to Algeria to send home seven Japanese JGC workers who were confirmed safe and now are staying in Algiers, Suga said.

The Algeria hostage crisis has underlined Japan's weakness in intelligence-gathering overseas and inability to protect its citizens caught up in crises abroad.

During a news conference Sunday in Tokyo, Shigeru Ishiba, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, reportedly stressed the Diet should revise the Self-Defense Forces Law to ease conditions for dispatching SDF ships or aircraft to transport Japanese nationals involved in overseas crises.

Under the current SDF Law, SDF ships or aircraft can be dispatched overseas to transport Japanese only when the safety of SDF personnel is ensured. The forces are banned from transporting Japanese citizens on the ground under the law.

The war-renouncing Constitution strictly limits the activities of SDF units dispatched overseas.

"We need to prepare sufficient support systems for Japanese companies and citizens working overseas," Ishiba reportedly said.

Information from AFP-Jiji added



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