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Lebanon Denies Japan’s Request

March 23, 2000

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Lebanon on Wednesday rebuffed Japan’s renewed request for the extradition of a member of the Japanese Red Army guerrilla group who took part in a 1972 attack in Israel that killed 24 people.

Prime Minister Salim Hoss said Kozo Okamoto, who was formally granted political asylum in Lebanon on Tuesday after serving a three-year prison sentence for illegally entering the country, will stay.

``There is nothing new in this case,″ Hoss told reporters after discussions with Japanese Ambassador Matsuhiro Horiguchi. ``We told him that he (Okamoto) has received political asylum and the situation did not change.″

In granting Okamoto asylum, the Lebanese government has cited his anti-Israeli actions and his physical and psychological condition, saying he was still scarred from time in Israeli prison.

Lebanon expelled four other Red Army members to Jordan on Friday. Japanese diplomats met their plane in Amman and returned them to Tokyo to stand trial on terrorism charges.

Japan long has sought the return of all five to stand trial, and had made clear it would continue to press for Okamoto’s return.

Formed in 1971, the Red Army was a shadowy ultra-leftist group that carried out attacks including the 1972 shooting at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, that killed 24 people. Okamoto, who took part in the airport attack, spent 13 years in an Israeli jail before his release in a prisoner swap with Palestinian guerrillas in 1985.

The five Japanese were arrested in 1997 after spending years in Lebanon, protected by Palestinian and Lebanese leftist groups during the chaotic days of the 1975-90 civil war.

They are considered heroes by many in Lebanon and the Arab world for championing the Palestinian cause and opposing Israel, whose army occupies a border area in southern Lebanon and engages Lebanese guerrillas daily.

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