The Words of the Ota Family

Armed Group Frees Japanese Businessman, 2 Others In Paraguay

April 20, 2007
Yahoo! Asia News

A Japanese businessman and two Paraguayans kidnapped by an armed group in Paraguay on April 1 were released safely Friday, following the earlier release of the Japanese man's secretary who was kidnapped along with the three, Paraguayan authorities and Japanese government officials said.

Hirokazu Ota, 62, and the two locals were freed at Ciudad del Este in eastern Paraguay early Friday and were taken into protective custody after a ransom equivalent to $138,000, or about 16.4 million yen, was paid in local currency, the Paraguayan authorities said.

His acquaintance quoted him as saying over the phone after the release, "I'm fine." Ota arrived at the Japanese Embassy in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, by car later in the day.

Earlier in Tokyo, Japan's Senior Vice Foreign Minister Takeshi Iwaya told a press conference, "Because Mr. Ota is heading to Asuncion from Este, we have not yet made contact with him. He seems healthy." Ciudad del Este is about 300 kilometers east of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay.

Asked whether the kidnappers were on the run, Iwaya said, "I believe so."

A local radio station reported that investigative authorities arrested five people Friday near Ciudad del Este over the kidnapping case and seized a car and 10 mobile phones believed to have been used in the kidnapping.

Ota runs a property company in the capital and its officials told the Japanese Embassy in Paraguay shortly after 3 p.m. Japan time that they have taken protective custody of the three, Iwaya said.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso expressed gratitude for the efforts made by the Paraguayan authorities to secure the release of the three, saying in a statement, "The Japanese government criticizes sternly the contemptible act of kidnapping."

Ota and his secretary Sawako Yamaguchi, 37, were kidnapped in Caaguazu, more than 100 km east of Asuncion, on April 1 when they were returning to the capital by car from a meeting of the Unification Church in Ciudad del Este near the Brazilian border. A policeman and his female acquaintance, who happened to be at the scene, were also kidnapped.

The kidnappers, who wore what looked like police or military uniforms, are believed to come from three countries including Paraguay, according to informed sources.

Yamaguchi was released April 10. Harumi Takayama, 63, the mother of Yamaguchi, expressed relief following the release of Ota, saying, "It was very long. Though my daughter was freed, I couldn't feel happy from the bottom of my heart until Mr. Ota was also freed."

Ota and Yamaguchi are both members of the Unification Church which owns over 600,000 hectares of land in Paraguay. Ota came to Paraguay about 10 years ago and last year became president of the company that manages the land, the church said. He has also been involved in missionary work for the church along with Yamaguchi.

The kidnappers initially demanded $25,000 for the release of the four but investigative sources said the sum was raised to $750,000.

Kidnapping has occurred frequently in Latin America. In Columbia, a Japanese man who was kidnapped in 2001 was shot dead in 2003.

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