Press Conference 10 May 2005

  1. Possible hostage incident in Iraq
  2. Visit to Japan by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority
  3. Visit to Japan by Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Abdullah of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
  4. Visit by Representative of the Government of Japan Yasushi Akashi to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
  5. Japanese grant assistance
  6. Follow-up questions concerning hostage incident
  7. Question concerning Taiwan issue

  1. Possible hostage incident in Iraq

    Press Secretary Hatsuhisa Takashima: Good afternoon and thank you very much for coming to the briefing. Before taking questions, I would like to make several announcements.

    The first announcement is on the possible hostage situation in Iraq.

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs obtained information from the London branch of the security company based in the Republic of Cyprus that one of its contractors, a Japanese gentleman named Mr. Akihiko Saito at the age of 44, is missing in the western part of Iraq. The convoy he and his colleagues were in was ambushed by a militant group, and he was reported missing. The incident occurred in the evening hours of 8 May; that means two days ago local time.

    At the same time, an Iraqi militant group called Ansar al-Sunnah announced yesterday on its website that it captured a Japanese gentleman with the same name as the one which was given to us by the security company in London, Mr. Akihiko Saito. According to the information on the website, he and others were ambushed by the militant group in Hira, which is also in the western part of Iraq. He was wounded and captured as a hostage.

    As far as the Japanese Government is concerned, we do have confirmation that he is missing based upon the information of the security company named Hart Security Ltd. However, we do not have any independent confirmation of the hostage taking of Mr. Akihiko Saito.

    The Government has set up a taskforce at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs early this morning, headed by Minister for Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura. We are making utmost efforts to obtain information and try to secure the safe return of Mr. Akihiko Saito if he was actually taken hostage by this group. We strongly condemn acts of violence and terrorism as such, and we will make utmost efforts to obtain his safe return. At the same time, the Government of Japan is seeking cooperation from the countries concerned including Iraq, the United States of America (US) and neighboring countries of Iraq, as well as the security company named Hart Security.

    Related Information (The Issue of Iraq)

  2. Visit to Japan by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority

    Mr. Takashima: The second announcement is about the visit of the President of the Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority.

    President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority will visit Japan from 15 to 17 May at the invitation of the Government of Japan.

    During his stay in Japan, President Abbas will have talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other leaders of Japan to exchange views on the Middle East situation, Japan-Palestine relations, and other matters.

    Since there is a historic opportunity to advance the Middle East peace process, the international community has been intensifying its efforts for peace. Seizing the opportunity of President Abbas's visit to Japan, Japan intends to make summit-level efforts for advancing the Middle East peace process and strengthening Japan-Palestine relations.

    Related Information (Press Release)

  3. Visit to Japan by Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Abdullah of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

    Mr. Takashima: The next announcement is about the visit of the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Abdullah of Afghanistan will visit Japan from 17 to 19 May as a guest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    During his stay in Japan, he will meet with Foreign Minister Machimura to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and also the reconstruction and national development of that nation.

    Related Information (Japan-Afghanistan Relations)

  4. Visit by Representative of the Government of Japan Yasushi Akashi to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

    Mr. Takashima: The next announcement is about the visit of Representative of the Government of Japan Yasushi Akashi for the Sri Lankan peace process.

    Representative of the Government of Japan Yasushi Akashi for Sri Lankan peace-building and reconstruction effort will visit the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka from 11 to 17 May.

    During his stay in Sri Lanka, Representative Akashi will meet with President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and also attend a forum on Sri Lankan development to be held in Kandi on 16 and 17 May.

    Related Information (Japan-Sri Lanka Relations)

  5. Japanese grant assistance

    Mr. Takashima: The next announcement is about a set of Japanese assistance.

    First, in order to alleviate the food shortage in the African nation of the Republic of Djibouti, the Government of Japan decided to provide up to 150 million yen or US$1.4 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) to be used to purchase rice for the needy people. This assistance is part of Japan's assistance program for Africa that was announced by Prime Minister Koizumi at the Third Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD III).

    In addition, in order to assist the empowerment program in the refugee zones in Forest Guinea in Africa, the Government of Japan decided to provide US$1.12 million to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). This assistance will be used to give vocational training such as in metal working and blacksmith. This assistance is for the refugees and residents in the refugee areas to provide them with the skills for sustaining their lives through cash income.

    Finally, the Government of Japan decided to provide US$491,000 to the UNDP to conduct a wide-range study for the implementation of a human security project in the Central Asian region. Through this project, it is expected that the political leaders and decision makers of Central Asian nations will be able to obtain a long-range perspective and focus on economic and human development to enhance human security through regional cooperation in Central Asia, where the legacy of the days of the Soviet Union such as conflicts, poverty, unemployment and narcotics still pose a threat to the peoples' life and security.

    Related Information (Japan's ODA)

  6. Follow-up questions concerning hostage incident

    Q: Do you have any more information on Mr. Saito's job description with Hart Security in Iraq?

    Mr. Takashima: My understanding is that he has a contract as a security consultant with this security company called Hart Security, whose headquarters is based in Cyprus and whose branches are located in London as well as Iraq. However, he was actually working as a security guard for various projects, including to provide security for US convoys.

    Q: Do you know how long he has been in Iraq?

    Mr. Takashima: My understanding is that he went to Iraq in December last year.

    Q: Was that the starting point of his contract?

    Mr. Takashima: I am not aware of the exact date of his contract with this company, but prior to making this contract, he was serving in a French foreign legion for more than 20 years. That is my understanding.

    Q: Has the Government had any contact with the captors or is it trying to contact them?

    Mr. Takashima: There has been no additional announcement by the captors. Therefore, we are trying to obtain information through various sources. We have not yet established any direct contact with the group.

    Q: Do you have any more information about how this possibly happened? Do you have any information from Hart Security?

    Mr. Takashima: According to the company's information, this group of security personnel escorted conveys which transported something from Baghdad to a US base in the western part of Iraq. On its way back to somewhere, probably the base or elsewhere, those convoys were ambushed or attacked or booby-trapped. The convoys were basically empty convoys.

    Q: Could you tell us again the name of the place that this likely hostage crisis is believed to have taken place?

    Mr. Takashima: There are several names, but according to the announcement the group made on its website, it was done in the outskirt of Hira. According to the company, it was a place called Al Asat. We have not established exactly where this incident happened.

    Q: Could you tell us if the family members of Mr. Saito are saying anything?

    Mr. Takashima: We have been in touch with Mr. Saito's father and younger brother. Our understanding is that Mr. Saito has not been in touch with his father or younger brother for many years. So it was a kind of a surprise for his father and younger brother to be informed that Mr. Saito is missing in Iraq.

    Q: But they are saying that the picture seems to be of Mr. Saito?

    Mr. Takashima: The picture shown on the TV screen, according to them, looked like Mr. Saito.

    Q: Do you know how many Japanese nationals besides the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are actually in Iraq right now?

    Mr. Takashima: There are not too many: the members of the SDF, members of the Embassy and also of the representative office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Samawah, and others. The numbers are very much limited.

    Q: As for civilians like Mr. Saito?

    Mr. Takashima: We are not aware of any Japanese presence in Iraq other than what we know.

    Q: Do you know when the empty convoy left the US military facility?

    Mr. Takashima: No.

    Q: Was the Japanese Government aware of the presence of Mr. Saito before this incident took place or of contractors of Japanese nationality in Iraq?

    Mr. Takashima: I would rather like to refrain from giving detailed information on the Japanese presence there because of security reasons. In the case of Mr. Saito, we were not aware of his presence in Iraq. There was no information.

    Q: Is the Japanese Government considering sending any officials to Iraq?

    Mr. Takashima: Actually, that is one possibility. In previous cases, we have sent high-ranking officials to places like Amman, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, to set up a local regional taskforce. However, in this case, we still do not have any confirmation of the abduction or capture of Mr. Saito. Also, we do not yet have any sort of detailed information about the incident. Therefore, at this moment, we do not have any plans to send anyone from here. Rather, the case would be handled by the Japanese Embassy staff in that area for the time being.

    Related Information (The Issue of Iraq)

  7. Question concerning Taiwan issue

    Q: Two opposition leaders of Taiwan recently visited the People's Republic of China and had high-level talks with the people there. The US Government urged that high-level officials in Beijing should talk directly to President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan. What is the Japanese Government's view on this?

    Mr. Takashima: The Japanese Government hopes that the two sides will resume the direct talks in order to resolve the Taiwan issue through diplomatic and peaceful means. In order to facilitate that sort of dialogue, it should be attended by the sitting government's representatives. At the same time, we recognize that the visit of the leaders of the opposition in Taiwan to Beijing was one of the significant moves towards the peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue. We also feel that what is necessary here is dialogue between the two sitting governments.

    Related Information (Taiwan)


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