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2009年1月13日 (火)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 12(IHT/Asahi: January 13,2009)

EDITORIAL: Abducted doctor freed


Keiko Akahane, a Japanese doctor who was kidnapped in Ethiopia in September last year, was freed last week after being held captive for 3? months in Somalia.


"I'm happy to have lived to see this day," Akahane said at a news conference in Paris, where French aid group Medecins du Monde (MDM, Doctors of the World) is based.

Akahane was working as a member of the group when she was abducted.


Her family and friends must have felt immense relief to find her safe and sound. We share their happiness.


When she went to Ethiopia in April last year, she realized her childhood dream of doing medical work in a developing country.


For a while after she was abducted by an armed group and taken to neighboring Somalia, she thought "This is it" every time she heard the kidnappers touching their guns, according to Akahane's account of her life in captivity.


She said she could endure the days of living in constant fear of death because of her strong feelings toward her family. It seems she also found solace in daily conversations with a Dutch nurse who was kidnapped with her and by reading books.


Somalia is a totally failed nation. A serious deterioration of the public safety situation in the eastern African country has led to rampant kidnappings of foreigners. Pirates operating off Somalia are also posing a nagging maritime security problem for the international community.


We wonder how well MDM understood the seriousness of the security situation in the region.


The French aid organization, founded in 1980, operates aid work in about 50 countries on an annual budget of more than 10 billion yen. It is a sophisticated, well-experienced humanitarian aid group.


While working in Ethiopia, Akahane and her colleagues first gathered security information every morning to ensure their safety. Still, they failed to detect the movement of the armed group, which crossed the border and sneaked up on them. This is the grim reality of a conflict area.


MDM negotiated with the kidnappers on its own. The Japanese government just monitored the related developments in response to a request from the French aid group.


There is no functioning government to depend on in Somalia. MDM apparently thought involvement by the Japanese government would only complicate the negotiations. MDM's strategy for dealing with the situation has proved successful.


What must not be forgotten is that Japanese nongovernmental organizations operating aid work overseas do not have the ability to conduct similar negotiations with an armed group. If a Japanese aid group becomes embroiled in a similar situation, the Japanese government would have to take action to fulfill its duty to protect Japanese nationals.


Japanese NGOs began operating large-scale humanitarian aid activities in various parts of the world in the 1980s. Their efforts have contributed greatly to raising Japan's stature in the international community. But their operations are always fraught with danger.


In a tragic incident in August last year, Japanese aid worker Kazuya Ito, who was working in eastern parts of Afghanistan, was abducted by an armed group and killed immediately afterward.


But the NGO he belonged to, Peshawar-kai, has continued irrigation and agricultural work in the country in order to build on Ito's legacy.


Akahane, who said she wanted to rest awhile in Japan, nevertheless expressed hope that she will be able to do aid work in a similar place again.


Humanitarian aid activities in developing countries can continue because of contributions by many such dedicated people. We all should give moral support to young people committed to serving the cause of humanity.



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