The Words of the Ota Family

Freed Japanese In Paraguay Meets Press

April 22, 2007
Yahoo! Asia News

(Kyodo) _ A Japanese businessman, released safely Friday after being kidnapped in Paraguay and detained for almost 20 days, said during a news conference Saturday he is happy to be free and thanked supports for getting him freed.

"I now know the real meaning of freedom and its preciousness," Hirokazu Ota, 62, told reporters at the Japanese Embassy in Asuncion along with his secretary Sawako Yamaguchi, 37, who was also kidnapped and released earlier.

"I thought I would never be able to return to Japan," Ota said tearfully. "I am very glad that I can meet my family again and stand on Japanese soil."

Ota and 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, according to Paraguayan authorities.

Yamaguchi recalled how she felt after becoming the only one freed from detention.

"I was worried about the three (who remained detained) so I had a harder time after being released," she said in the brief news conference that lasted about 10 minutes.

The two Japanese looked nervous throughout the conference and declined to answer any questions.

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 a 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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