First Published: 2013-01-23

 

Mysterious hostage crisis: Japan wants answers from Algeria

 

Senior Japanese government figure arrives in Algeria to meet prime minister, as Tokyo seeks answers on hostage crisis.

 

Middle East Online

By Hiroshi Hiyama – TOKYO

How did hostages die? Was it possible to avoid carnage?

A senior Japanese government figure arrived in Algeria Wednesday to meet the prime minister, the foreign ministry said, as Tokyo sought to learn why at least seven of its citizens died when Islamists overran a gas plant.

Senior Vice Foreign Minister Shunichi Suzuki was aboard a government jet that is set to take home the bodies of those known to have been killed in the hostage crisis, as well as seven Japanese nationals who survived.

The fate of three others who were at the desert plant remains unknown, but Japan is bracing for news of their deaths, several days after the Algerian military ended the siege.

Suzuki is carrying a letter addressed to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.

"The government will use whatever means possible to confirm what has happened to the three people who are still unaccounted for," he said.

Japan has asked Algeria to fully investigate events at the gas plant and exactly how individuals died, he said.

"Algeria has promised to cooperate as much as possible," Suga said.

Five foreigners are still missing and the bodies of seven other people are so badly charred that they have not yet been identified.

Suga's comments came as it emerged that Japan, Britain the US and other countries whose nationals were caught up in the events at In Amenas issued a joint demarche to Algeria on Friday.

A demarche is a formal diplomatic move in which a country's stance is conveyed in person -- rather than by note -- to another government.

In a conference telephone call, Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi told Algerian foreign minister Mourad Medelci that Tokyo wanted the utmost priority placed on actions that would keep captives alive.

"Japan is strongly concerned about acts that put the lives of the hostages at risk, and it is regrettable that the Algerian Government pressed military rescue operations," he said, according to a foreign ministry statement.

Japan was among the more forthright of nations as the hostage crisis unfolded, summoning the Algerian ambassador to demand answers on the situation and press for restraint from the army.

World capitals have since rowed back from comments that may have been seen as overly critical in Algiers, and have repeatedly stressed that the hostage takers bear full responsibility for the desert outrage.

Algeria's government said 37 foreigners of eight different nationalities and an Algerian were killed in the four-day siege, which ended Saturday.

The plane's arrival in Algeria came as Tokyo announced it was shutting its embassy in neighbouring Mali, evacuating staff and urging its nationals in the country to leave because of the deteriorating security situation there.

The Japanese death toll in the Algerian hostage crisis has shaken a country not accustomed to its citizens being made targets abroad.

The kidnappers claimed they launched their attack in the Sahara in protest at Algeria's complicity in a French military campaign against Islamists in Mali.

The French-led offensive in its former colony began early in the New Year, 10 months after the government lost over half its territory to Islamists, amid rising fears that the vast north of the country could become a haven for Al-Qaeda.

 

17 killed in fatal Cairo building collapse

Syrian air strikes on Raqa kill 63 civilians

UN chief calls for halt to Libya air strikes

Death toll rises from Morocco flash floods

Lebanese diva Sabah passes away

Egypt nabs five Salafist leaders

Essebsi leads Tunisia presidential vote

Paris pushing for 'safe zones' in war-torn Syria

New air strike hits Tripoli’s sole operational airport

Pentagon chief steps down

Saudi seeks to ‘knock out’ shale oil competitors from oil market

Yemen troops free 8 hostages from Al-Qaeda

Italy hails Egypt as 'strategic partner'

US Congress skeptical of Iran nuclear talks extension

Khartoum, Darfur rebels open ceasefire talks

Time runs out for biggest chance to resolve Iran nuclear standoff

Egypt leader heads to Italy

Morocco arrests six over online IS allegiance pledge

Iraqi forces retake areas near Iran border from jihadists

Southern Morocco storms claim eight lives

Marzouki, Essebsi set for runoff in Tunisia presidential vote

Biden wraps up Turkey visit without breakthrough on Syria

Sudan launches investigation into claims of 'mass rape' in Darfur village

Assad urges ‘real pressure’ on backers of 'terror'

Israel eyes powers to revoke rights of Arab residents

Iraq death sentence to ex- PM threatens to damage ties with powerful tribe

Iran hardliners resist possible nuclear deal in rare protest

After failure of boycott, Bahrain Shiite opposition resorts to accusations

Tunisia votes for president in first free and multi-candidate election

Hope for change and stability as Tunisia prepares to elect new president

Saudi detainee sent home as US speeds up Guantanamo repatriations

Economy and security top agenda of Sisi’s first European tour

Benghazi attack report clears Obama administration of serious charges

Voters bet on stability in crucial Bahrain elections

Hurdles remain high as Iran and world powers press on for nuclear pact

Shebab ‘revenge’ attack leaves 28 innocents dead in Kenya

Strains between Washington and Ankara despite declared agreement

Paypal teams up with AttijariWafa Bank to boost Morocco exports

UN begins sending winter aid to Iraq

Turkey launches all-out war against bonzai drug

Turkey to build bridge across Dardanelles to ease traffic

IS launch major attack on Ramadi

Biden: You cannot think free where you cannot challenge orthodoxy

Does Abbas have enough political influence to stop violence in Jerusalem?

Turkey offers military assistance to Iraq