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Four Freed Japanese Hostages Leave

October 26, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ Four Japanese geologists who were freed after more than two months of captivity left Kyrgyzstan for Japan on Tuesday, a Russian news report said.

The geologists, released Monday along with their translator, left the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, for Tokyo on Tuesday, the Interfax news agency reported.

The Japanese were taken hostage Aug. 22 in a remote southern region of Kyrgyzstan by Islamic militants who crossed from Tajikistan and took control of several villages.

The invasion sparked clashes with the Kyrgyz army, but the government said afterward that it had been reluctant to launch an all-out attack for fear of harming the hostages, who also included several Kyrgyz soldiers.

The militants’ exact aims were never known. At one point they said they would give up the hostages if thousands of mosques and religious training institutions were reopened in Uzbekistan and Muslims held in Uzbek prisons were released.

At another point, they said they wanted free passage to Uzbekistan. The Kyrgyz government contended that they were trying to establish an independent Islamic state in Central Asia.

The militants retreated into Tajikistan in mid-October, taking the Japanese with them and releasing the other hostages.

Tajik and Kyrgyz officials then stepped up negotiations to free the four Japanese, identified as Nobuhisa Nakajima, 49, Hirotaro Fujii, 47, Haruo Harada, 38, and Toshiaki Ariie, 58. They were freed in Tajikistan on Monday and brought to Kyrgyzstan.

The ITAR-Tass news agency reported Tuesday that Kyrgyzstan lost 22 troops in the two-month conflict with the militants. Citing an unidentified Kyrgyz Security Council official, the news agency said that four civilians had also been killed.

Japanese and Kyrgyz officials insisted that no ransom was paid for the four geologists. But Japanese media speculated that between $2 million and $5 million was paid for their release.

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