Japanese pressing Algiers for answers as siege toll climbs


Fri, Jan 25, 2013 - Page 6

A senior Japanese official met with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Saleki on Wednesday to press for an explanation of the gas plant siege, as Tokyo confirmed the deaths of two more nationals, taking its toll to nine.

Japanese Senior Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Shunichi Suzuki arrived aboard a government jet that is to repatriate the bodies of those known to have been killed in the hostage crisis, along with the seven Japanese who survived.

Tokyo announced late on Wednesday that it knew for sure that nine Japanese were killed after Islamist gunmen overran the desert facility. One Japanese citizen remains unaccounted for.

“Unfortunately, we have been able to confirm two more deaths,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Seventeen Japanese were at the facility in Amenas when jihadists struck on Jan. 16 at the start of a four-day siege that left dozens of foreigners dead.

Suzuki carried a letter to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Suga said in Tokyo.

As well as Saleki, Suzuki also met Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mourad Medelci, Japan’s Kyodo News reported, citing Tokyo’s foreign ministry.

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

Algeria has said that 37 foreigners of eight different nationalities and an Algerian were killed in the siege, which ended on Saturday.

Several are still missing and the bodies of others are so charred, they have not been identified.

The visit came as it emerged that Britain, Japan, the US and other countries whose nationals were caught up in the events at the plant issued a joint demarche to Algeria on Friday last week.

A demarche is a formal diplomatic move in which a country’s stance is conveyed in person to another government.

In a call, Japanese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Minoru Kiuchi told Medelci that Tokyo wanted Algiers to protect captives.

“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.