Japanese envoys seeking out two Japanese World War II soldiers allegedly hiding in the southern Philippines jungle are to pull out after a failed search, officials said yesterday.
The plan to withdraw was announced amid contradictory reports and growing doubts about the story that the two Japanese "stragglers," supposedly now in their 80s, wanted to emerge from hiding, 60 years after the war ended.
"The Japanese embassy in the Philippines has decided that the embassy staff that has been sent to General Santos city will be recalled to Manila for the time being," said Ekio Egawa, the Japanese consul-general.
Egawa would not say when the Japanese delegation would be pulling out.
He said the decision to withdraw was made after a shadowy Japanese mediator, allegedly in touch with the two soldiers, had told the diplomats that any interviews of the two should be done "at a later date at a more quiet place."
Egawa also cited security concerns that the scores of Japanese and local journalists who came to this southern city to cover the event, might be targeted by guerrillas and kidnapping gangs operating in the hills outside the city.
He refused to disclose further details on the mysterious mediator except to say they would still be in contact with him from the embassy in Manila.
Egawa also would not say they were questioning the credibility of the story or the middleman, remarking that "we will be waiting for further contacts from the mediator."
In Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda had said that "if we see no progress, we are considering sending our diplomats back to Manila."
The self-described Japanese middleman met with the diplomats in the south on Sunday but was not accompanied by the two men. Instead he offered to arrange another meeting.
Japanese broadcaster NHK said the middleman's statements were often contradictory and ambiguous.
"We cannot look for them in large mountain areas that are controlled by guerrillas. We just have to wait for a new contact" from the middleman, Hosoda said.
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