Press Conference 16 April 2004

  1. Upcoming sixth meeting of foreign ministers of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)
  2. Questions concerning release of Japanese hostages in Iraq
  3. Questions concerning situation of Japanese remaining in Iraq
  4. Question concerning task force dealing with the hostage situation
  5. Question concerning the Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement (ACSA)
  6. Questions concerning demands of the hostage-takers
  7. Question concerning operations of Al-Jazeera television station
  8. Questions concerning payment of services involved in the hostage situation

  1. Upcoming sixth meeting of foreign ministers of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)

    Press Secretary Hatsuhisa Takashima: Good afternoon and thank you very much for coming to the briefing. Today, I would like to make one announcement.

    The sixth meeting of the foreign ministers of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is going to be held at Kildare in the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland from 17 to 18 April.

    The Government of Japan will be represented by Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Hitoshi Tanaka. This meeting will be participated by foreign ministers and their deputies from 25 countries of Asia and Europe. Japan, as a coordinating country from the Asia side along with the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, will assist the chair country, Ireland, to make this foreign ministers' meeting fruitful and constructive.

    Related Information (The Asia-Europe Meeting)
  2. Questions concerning release of Japanese hostages in Iraq

    Q: We learned that Japan is going to question the three hostages when they come back to Japan. Will they be punished for their going into Iraq?

    Mr. Takashima: The position of the Japanese Government of this incident as well as those three hostages is that they are victims of forced abduction committed by unknown criminals on foreign soil. Thus, the Government of Japan, namely the National Police Agency, would conduct an investigation on this crime. To that extent, the police may ask for the cooperation of the three Japanese nationals as victims of the crime to explain what actually happened during the course of this crime, from moment of abduction to the release. Certainly, they are not the criminals. We have no intention to punish them. Rather, we will welcome them back and hope they will make the safe return to Japan to reunite with their families as soon as possible.

    Q: Do you know when these three released hostages will arrive in Japan?

    Mr. Takashima: The schedule of the three released Japanese hostages is as follows. They arrived at the Embassy of Japan in Baghdad yesterday afternoon, Baghdad time. They are safe and we are pleased that their initial health condition seems to be not bad, but they need further medical examination. They are scheduled to be transported from Baghdad to Dubai sometime today by chartered flight from Baghdad. Upon arrival at the Dubai airport, they will be taken to a hospital for a medical check. After that, if they are declared healthy enough to take a very long flight back to Japan by medical doctors, then they will take a direct flight from Dubai to Japan and come home. When they will actually take that flight remains to be seen because we still do not know what sort of outcome the medical check will produce.

    Q: Is the direct flight the three are going to take landing at Kansai Airport or at Narita or Haneda? Moreover, do you happen to know if they are going to hold a press conference at Osaka or Tokyo somewhere?

    Mr. Takashima: The only direct flight route which connects Dubai and Japan terminates in Kansai Airport, so they will be flying into Kansai Airport. When that will be is still undecided.

    Whether there will be any press conference, I do not know. There is no such plan yet.

    Q: Two questions. First one, the hostages have told the media that they are going to go back to Iraq after they come back to Japan. Will the Government of Japan take harsher measures to prevent more Japanese from going to Iraq?

    Second one, will Japan send investigators to Iraq to track down the kidnappers?

    Mr. Takashima: Firstly, the Government of Japan has been issuing a series of travel warnings to Japanese tourists to stay away from Iraq as well as to Japanese expatriates in Iraq to evacuate the country as soon as possible. These warnings have been issued a number of times and 14 times actually since the beginning of this year. We hope that all the Japanese non-governmental officials or those with no official mission will leave Iraq as soon as possible.

    Secondly, we are aware that some of the released hostages indicated that they wanted to stay in Iraq or continue their work in Iraq, but we believe that their statement was made under very unusual, extraordinary circumstances. When they come to a full understanding of the situation there, they will have a more reasonable idea. Also, as I have said, since the travel warnings are active, we will try to get the three to understand fully the situation.

    On your second question on a possible investigation or tracking down of the kidnappings of the three released hostages or possibly two more, we do not foresee any possibility of Japanese police officials or anybody conducting any sort of actual investigative operation in Iraq due to the current circumstances and the legal issues involved.

    Q: One of the reasons that the hostages were unharmed may be because there was a woman involved from a non-governmental organization (NGO). When a woman is involved, these kinds of people try not to harm the hostages. What do you think about this?

    Mr. Takashima: On the treatment of the hostages, I do not have any immediate comment, but I noted that the female hostage, Ms. Nahoko Takato said in a television interview that she had a very difficult time and that "she got scared." This means that some sort of, if not physical, psychological harassment might have taken place, but we have to wait for the official report of the inquiry of this incident.

    We do not know if the fact that there was a woman involved among the hostages was one of the reasons they were safely released. I just cannot say one way or the other.

    Related Information (The Issue of Iraq)
  3. Questions concerning situation of Japanese remaining in Iraq

    Q: I have two questions. The first is on the situation of the remaining two Japanese hostages in Iraq. Does the Japanese Government have any information?

    The other question is, how many Japanese are now in Iraq? One week ago, you said that there were some 70 Japanese left.

    Mr. Takashima: To answer your second question first, we assume there are about 50 Japanese still staying in Iraq, excluding the members of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) but including diplomats and journalists mainly. Some of the Japanese journalists have already evacuated the country, so the number has been reduced.

    To answer your first question, actually, we are still trying to establish the facts of what happened to those two missing Japanese. There are strong indications that they were kidnapped by an unknown armed group when they were trying to go to the site of the emergency landing of a US helicopter in the outskirts of Baghdad. Since that incident was reported, we have not had any additional information about the whereabouts of those two people. We are making utmost effort to find out who did what and where they are and to try to find a way to secure their safe release if they were in fact abducted.

    Q: Has the Japanese Government confirmed that the two have not returned to their hotel?

    Mr. Takashima: The information we have indicates that they have not returned to their apartment in which they resided. Their personal belongings are still left intact in their rooms and there is no sign that they had returned.

  4. Question concerning task force dealing with the hostage situation

    Q: Will the current task force dealing with the kidnapping remain in Iraq until the whereabouts of the other two missing Japanese are confirmed?

    Mr. Takashima: Some members of the Japanese task force are there to assist in resolving this hostage case and abduction. However, their schedule or plan is simply a matter of a very sensitive nature and we will not disclose any part of their activities.

    Q: Does that mean that their mission does not include tracking down the kidnappers?

    Mr. Takashima: Their mission does not include the tracking down of the kidnappers physically; in other words, they will not go into the field to track down the kidnappers.

  5. Question concerning the Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement (ACSA)

    Q: what is the current understanding of Japan on the Acquisition and Cross-servicing Agreement (ACSA)?

    Mr. Takashima: Japan and the United States of America recently reached agreement on the new procedural arrangement of the ACSA. The Government of Japan is very much satisfied and pleased that agreement has been reached. With this new arrangement, the Japanese police and the legal system would be helped with prompt cooperation from the US side, and the US side would also be helped by allowing US officials to attend the interrogation or questioning sessions of the Japanese police, when members of the US military forces are arrested or charged with some crime in this country.

  6. Questions concerning demands of the hostage-takers

    Q: How would you comment on the speculation that Japan has paid some money to the kidnappers?

    Mr. Takashima: On whether Japan paid some ransom to the kidnappers, the answer is no, we have not.

    Q: No money at all?

    Mr. Takashima: There was no money involved.

    Q: Did anybody ask for money or make any other demand aside from sending the troops home?

    Mr. Takashima: As far as I know of, the only demand we received was that we withdraw our Self-Defense Forces from Iraq.

    Q: What was the motivation for sending the hostages back then? Could you list the possible motivations? If it was not money and the troops did not go back, did they just decide that there was no point?

    Mr. Takashima: I am a spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and not the hostage-taking group, so I would like to refer you to them.

  7. Question concerning operations of Al-Jazeera television station

    Q: About Al-Jazeera television, it has been said that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) trained professionals to start the Arab television station. Was there any involvement of Japanese official development assistance (ODA) on the technical side or providing technical services or training for workers at that TV station? Was there any Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) involvement in their training?

    Mr. Takashima: On Al-Jazeera, my understanding is that it is a private company. The State of Qatar is not on the list of ODA recipients of the Government of Japan, and therefore, I do not think that any official development assistance money went into the operations of Al-Jazeera.

  8. Questions concerning payment of services involved in the hostage situation

    Q: In a hostage situation like this, does the Government charge its citizens for the services that the Government provided? Who actually picks up the bill for everything that happens from the time the hostages are taken?

    Mr. Takashima: One of the major tasks of the Government is to protect its own nationals, wherever or whoever they may be. As the main task of the Government, we did what we have done, but for the service expenses, for example, air transportation or medical checks, the bill will be sent to them.

    Q: You mean the cost for chartering the plane, etc.?

    Mr. Takashima: They have to pay their transportation and medical check fees.

    Q: What about the flight from Baghdad to Dubai?

    Mr. Takashima: There is a prearranged charging system, so they do not have to pay the full amount of chartering a flight, but they will be charged in due course.

    Q: So they do pay for their chartered flight?

    Mr. Takashima: They pay a certain amount equivalent to about a regular airfare.

    Q: So for their transportation from Dubai to Osaka, they have to pay?

    Mr. Takashima: Of course, they have to buy a ticket.

Back to Index