Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says he has no plans to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq, despite a threat to kill three Japanese civilians who have been kidnapped in the increasingly violent country.
Mr. Koizumi rejected the kidnappers' demand for the withdrawal of all Japanese troops within three days, and he told reporters in Tokyo today (Friday) that Japan could not surrender to such "despicable" threats.
Japanese television has broadcast harrowing pictures of the hostages moaning in terror as their captors menaced them with knives. A previously unknown Iraqi group released a videotape of the victims -- two men and one woman, an aid worker -- and said it would "burn them alive" unless the Tokyo government met its demands.
Japan has about 550 troops in Iraq working in a non-combat role on reconstruction projects.
Mr. Koizumi says his government is initiating efforts to ensure the hostages' safety. No details have been made public about where they are being held or when they were captured.
In addition to the three Japanese, insurgents in Iraq are believed to be holding one Canadian aid worker (in Najaf), a British national (in Nassiriya) and two Palestinians (who reportedly were detained as spies because they were carrying Israeli identification cards).
Seven South Korean civilians also were held for a time, but later released. Government officials in Seoul say they have no intention of breaking their pledge to send troops to Iraq this year to help stabilize the country.
Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.