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Last Updated: Sunday, 31 October, 2004, 05:31 GMT
Japan's backpacker hostage
Newspaper front page showing Japanese hostage in Iraq
Shosei Koda's death will multiply domestic angst about Iraq
Ten months ago, 24-year-old Shosei Koda did what many young people do these days - he left his home country to go travelling.

By July he had started a working holiday in New Zealand. This month he chose a more unusual travel destination - Iraq.

That choice proved to be fatal.

On Sunday a notorious militant group fulfilled a threat to behead Mr Koda unless Japan pulled its troops out of Iraq.

Mr Koda's ordeal will renew angst in Japan about the presence of its troops in Iraq.

Little is known about Mr Koda or what he was doing in Iraq.

According to media reports, he was in New Zealand until August, and later went to Amman, Jordan, where he worked for a while.

Shosei Koda - high school graduation photo
A file photo of Shosei Koda at graduation from school

A Japanese film director, Hiroshi Shinomiya, who met Mr Koda there, told Japanese broadcaster NHK that he had tried to stop him from going because it was too dangerous.

"But he said, 'It's all right'. I don't think he was even carrying a mobile phone," Mr Shinomiya said.

Mr Koda is reported to have boarded a bus to Iraq used by locals which is rarely checked at the border. He is not thought to have been carrying an entry visa.

His father told reporters that Shosei had not told his family of his latest travel plans, probably because he knew they would try to stop him.

"He simply wanted to encounter the pain felt by the Iraqi people and think about the future of the world," his father told the Associated Press news agency.

Unease over troops

His death will renew soul-searching amongst the Japanese public about the government's decision to send 550 troops to Iraq to help the US and its allies rebuild infrastructure. Militants who took five Japanese hostage in April also called for a military withdrawal.

The government refused to give in to their demands, and the captives were eventually released unharmed.

But many civilians in Iraq have not been so lucky. Mr Koda, held by militants led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has suffered the same fate.

A poll published by Asahi newspaper on Tuesday suggested that 63% of Japanese oppose keeping their military in Iraq beyond the end of this year.

But before Mr Koda died, some had expressed irritation at the risks he had taken.

"We find it hard to understand why he travelled to Iraq because he should have known the danger well as the ministry has repeatedly warned citizens not to visit Iraq," Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told reporters.

When Iraq's five previous Japanese hostages - all of them aid workers or journalists - were released from captivity in April, public relief turned to anger when some of them said they were planning to go back.

A psychiatrist who met them on their return told the New York Times they said their most stressful moment was not their violent kidnapping, but when they were faced with this hostile homecoming.




FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Reuters U.S. Air Strike Kills Two in Iraq's Falluja - 58 mins ago
Reuters UK U.S. air strike kills two in Falluja - 1 hr ago
ABCNEWS.com Japan Seeks Iraq Hostage Release as Deadline Nears - 1 hr ago
Herald Tribune Japan Presses for Release of Iraq Hostage - 2 hrs ago
Boston Globe Japan urges Iraq hostage's release - 2 hrs ago
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SEE ALSO:
Japan hostages home after ordeal
18 Apr 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Japanese journalist identified
31 May 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Former hostage seeks Iraq return
28 Apr 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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