Sun, May 30, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Attack on Japanese reporters casts pall over Iraq mission

WORRYING SIGN A third body was found yesterday near where insurgents were said to have attacked a car carrying two journalists


The killing of two Japanese journalists in Iraq has re-focused attention on worsening security and could bode ill for Japanese troops helping to rebuild the Middle Eastern nation, media said yesterday.

A third body was found near where gunmen were said to have attacked a car carrying two Japanese south of Baghdad, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. It said the body may have been that of 33-year-old Kotaro Ogawa, a freelance journalist.

Earlier, two badly burned bodies had been taken to a hospital in Mahmudiya, a town 30km south of Baghdad near where Thursday's attack occurred. They were believed to be those of veteran war correspondent Shinsuke Hashida, 61, and his Iraqi translator. The journalists' Iraqi driver said the vehicle had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade attack.

Relatives of Hashida and Ogawa, his nephew, yesterday left for Kuwait, where they were to be asked to identify the bodies.

The deaths, yet to be officially confirmed, take to four the number of Japanese citizens killed in Iraq since last year's US-led invasion. Two Japanese diplomats were killed in November when their car was attacked near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has since sent about 550 ground troops to help rebuild Iraq, Japan's riskiest military operation since World War Two.

Critics say that the deployment violates Japan's pacifist constitution and that worsening security in southern Iraq has raised questions about whether it still meets the requirement of a law limiting troop activities to "non-combat zones."

Such doubts have been fanned by recent attacks in Samawa, the area in which the troops are based, which had been considered relatively safe. In the latest incident, a rocket was fired at Iraqi security facilities in Samawa early yesterday, causing an explosion 7km from the Japanese camp, Kyodo news agency reported. There were no injuries.

Government officials said the attack on journalists would not affect the troops' status, but the opposition questioned whether conditions in Iraq still met legal requirements.

"It's not a situation where you can separate combat zones and non-combat zones," Kyodo quoted Hirohisa Fujii, secretary-general of the main opposition Democratic Party, as saying on Friday.

Newspapers said the attack had cast a pall over the mission, and shaken the Japanese troops since the journalists were attacked on their way back to Baghdad after visiting Samawa.

Whether the attack was aimed at Japanese nationals was a key issue, the Mainichi Shimbun daily said. The attack, intended to kill, was clearly different from the earlier kidnappings of five Japanese civilians in Iraq who were later freed, it said.

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