Japan seeks negotiating channels to win release of IS hostages

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TOKYO. KAZINFORM - The Japanese government was scrambling Thursday to secure negotiating channels to urge Islamic State militants to release two Japanese hostages unharmed, as a 72-hour deadline for paying a ransom approaches.

"We do not know," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference when asked about the safety of the hostages, and declined to comment on whether there have been any messages from the group. A masked man wielding a knife and claiming to be an Islamic State member threatened in an online video message Tuesday to kill the two captives -- Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto -- unless Japan pays $200 million within 72 hours. Tokyo believes the ransom deadline is around 2:50 p.m. Friday Japan time. The demanded ransom is the same as that pledged during a tour of the Middle East on Saturday by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as part of Tokyo's contribution to respond to the Islamic State group, including extending support to refugees from Iraq and Syria. Suga said it is a "misunderstanding" that Japan's aid is aimed at killing Muslims, as claimed by the man in the video, adding Tokyo will continue to send the message the aid is "humanitarian and nonmilitary" in nature. Japanese officials are trying to establish communication with the Islamic State group through various channels, with tribes in Syria and Muslim leaders potentially acting as mediators. Abe and his Cabinet ministers have also held talks with foreign leaders and ministers in an effort to save the Japanese hostages. Since the video was posted online, Japan has vowed never to yield to terrorism, a message Abe repeated during a 15-minute phone conversation Thursday with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. "Japan will never give in to terrorism and will contribute to international efforts to fight terrorism," Abe was quoted as telling Abbott in talks on sharing information to secure the release of the hostages. Through a task force in Jordan, Japan is seeking support from countries in the Middle East and elsewhere in obtaining information about the Japanese hostages. Turkey successfully won the release of 49 hostages held by the Islamic State group last September. Citizens in Japan in a position to possibly help are also setting forward. Ko Nakata, a 54-year-old Islamic law scholar, told a press conference in Tokyo that he is able to contact the Islamic State group and wants to "do everything possible to save (the hostages)." "I don't want (the captors) to harm the hostages at the 72-hour deadline. I want them to wait," said Nakata, a former professor at Doshisha University. Source: Kyodo

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