AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Thursday 24 January 2013
Last update 24 January 2013 12:50 am
ALGIERS: A senior Japanese government figure was in Algeria yesterday to meet the prime minister as Tokyo sought to learn why at least seven of its citizens died when militants overran a desert gas plant.
Senior Vice Foreign Minister Shunichi Suzuki arrived in Algiers aboard a government jet that is set to repatriate the bodies of those known to have been killed in the hostage crisis, as well as seven Japanese who survived.
The fate of three others who were at the remote plant in the Sahara remains unknown, but Japan is bracing for news of their deaths, several days after Algerian special forces ended the siege.
Suzuki is carrying a letter to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo.
“The government will use whatever means possible to confirm what has happened to the three people who are still unaccounted for,” he said.
Aside from Algerian news agency APS, the media had no access to the Japanese official.
Japan has asked Algeria to fully investigate events at the gas plant and exactly how individuals died, he said.
“Algeria has promised to cooperate as much as possible,” Suga said.
Five foreigners are still missing and the bodies of seven other people are so badly charred that they have not yet been identified.
Suga’s comments came as it emerged that Japan, Britain the US and other countries whose nationals were caught up in the events at the In Amenas plant issued a joint demarche to Algeria on Friday.
A demarche is a formal diplomatic move in which a country’s stance is conveyed in person — rather than by note — to another government.
In a conference telephone call, Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi told Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci that Tokyo wanted the utmost priority placed on actions that would keep captives alive.
“Japan is strongly concerned about acts that put the lives of the hostages at risk, and it is regrettable that the Algerian Government pressed military rescue operations,” he said, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
Japan was among the more forthright of nations as the hostage crisis unfolded, summoning Algiers’ ambassador to demand answers and to press for military restraint.
World capitals have since rowed back from comments that may have been seen as overly critical in Algiers, and have repeatedly stressed that the hostage takers bear full responsibility for the desert outrage.
Algeria’s government said 37 foreigners of eight different nationalities and an Algerian were killed in the four-day siege, which ended on Saturday.
The Japanese death toll has shaken the country not accustomed to its citizens being made targets abroad.
The kidnappers claimed they launched their attack in protest at Algeria’s complicity in a French military campaign against militants in Mali.