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Japanese firms in Algeria establish curfews amid hostage crisis

Publication Date : 18-01-2013

 

After three Japanese employees were taken hostage by an Islamic militant group in Algeria, JGC Corp. scrambled to gather as much information as it could. However, the whereabouts of 10 other workers were still unknown as of yesterday.

Disturbed by the sparse information it had received, the company considered sending staff to Algeria to confirm the safety of workers on the ground in spite of the tense standoff between the Algerian military and the armed group.

Meanwhile, some other Japanese firms with local offices in the country established a curfew for their employees.

"Overall, we are having difficulty gathering information," a JGC spokesman repeatedly said at a press conference yesterday morning at the company's headquarters in Yokohama. He also said the attack was unforeseen because the facility is protected by the military.

The spokesman revealed the three employees taken hostage are male. He finished the conference in about 30 minutes without giving further details on the hostages or security measures at the facility.

He only said, "Please excuse us [for not explaining further], in the interest of the hostages' safety."

A French media report said the militants had forced some of the hostages--which number more than 40--to wear belts carrying explosives to prevent the Algerian military from breaking in.

A dark cloud hung over JGC employees on the day, with one 65-year-old worker saying: "I hope they don't take any extreme actions, such as attempting a daring assault, because it could lead to casualties. I just hope all of [the hostages] are safe."

JGC has been doing business in Algeria since it received an order to construct an oil factory there in 1969.

According to sources, the three JGC workers were reportedly captured in a residential area of a natural-gas facility in the desert. JGC said its employees were dispatched there for a project to expand the facility that purifies petroleum oil and gas, which started in 2010.

560 Japanese living in Algeria

According to the Foreign Ministry, 560 Japanese were in Algeria as of October 2011. Seventeen Japanese firms, mainly related to plants and road construction, currently have offices in the nation.

Companies such as Kajima Corp. and Taisei Corp., which are building highways to the Tunisian border northeast of Algeria, have about 80 employees living in an about 400-kilometre stretch along the construction zones. They work as site directors and in other jobs under the protection of the Algerian military.

Following Wednesday's attack, the firms reinforced a ban on travel to southern Algeria, where public safety has deteriorated, as well as forbid unnecessary outings and implemented a curfew.

NEC Corp. has one employee living in the capital city of Algiers who is charged with sales of communication devices. Its spokesman said the firm always advises the employee to be careful and reiterated the message after Wednesday's incident.

Sumitomo Corp., which sells cars, agricultural chemicals and other supplies in Algeria, confirmed the safety of its two employees there. The firm's spokesman said Algiers is relatively safe, and it has instructed the two workers to ensure their security and collect information.

Ryunosuke Hagi, 70, an overseas security adviser at Japan Overseas Enterprises Association, has worked for Sumitomo in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. He said armed groups do not usually attack oil refineries and other desert facilities in the Middle East or Africa because the buildings are heavily guarded by local military or security forces.

"Japanese firms operate there based on the premise of heavy security by authorised personnel," Hagi said. "I've never heard of an incident like this. It's a unusual case, in which the armed group took drastic action without regard for the risks involved."

Kishida meets with Campbell

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida held talks with Kurt Campbell, visiting US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, at the Foreign Ministry yesterday to confirm that they will work closely to solve the hostage crisis in Algeria.

Workers at a natural gas facility in Algeria from several countries--including Japanese and US citizens--have been taken hostage by an armed Islamist group.

Kishida told Campbell he will fly to the United States today as scheduled to discuss the incident with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and other officials, according to ministry officials.

"Japan and the United States must resolve to cooperate [to solve the crisis]," Kishida said.

The two also discussed possible schedules for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the United States, which is expected to take place next month.

They also discussed North Korea's apparent launch of a long-range ballistic missile and Japan-China relations, which have been strained over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, the officials said.

 

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