Lost, and Maybe Found, in Philippines

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By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 28, 2005

TOKYO, May 27 -- Japanese diplomats arrived in the southern Philippines on Friday, hoping to meet two elderly men described by news reports as long-lost Japanese soldiers who have been hiding since the end of World War II.

Intense Japanese media coverage surrounded the report that two members of the defeated Imperial Army might still be alive and lying low on Mindanao island 60 years after the war.

The men reportedly maintained regular contact with locals on the island, where, according to Japanese media reports, they were first identified by a Japanese businessman involved in the local logging industry. At least one of the men is reported to have a Filipina wife, children and grandchildren.

The Health Ministry, which oversees the search for the remains of Japan's World War II combatants abroad, said the men, identified as Yoshio Yamakawa, 87, and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, 85, apparently are among four former Japanese soldiers who had been identified last year as being alive in the Philippines.

Japanese officials said they had not confirmed the men's identities or established contact with them. But they said they were taking the claims seriously and dispatched more personnel to the area of General Santos, a port city on Mindanao 675 miles south of Manila, the Philippine capital.

"If it's true, it's astonishing," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters in Tokyo, saying the government would assist the men if their identities were confirmed.

After the men surfaced last year, the businessman, whose name was not disclosed, contacted a veterans' association in Tokyo that was still searching for the remains of former soldiers in the Philippines and New Guinea.

According to the veterans' group, both men said they served in the 30th Division of the Imperial Army during the Japanese invasion and occupation of the Philippines, and were declared dead after the end of the war.

The veterans' group received information detailing the men's purported names. The group said two men fitting the names and descriptions had served in that area of the Philippines during the war. Reports in the Japanese press indicated the men had become separated from their unit after fierce fighting during the U.S. liberation of the Philippines.

Officials on Friday were attempting to reschedule a meeting with the men through a mediator after the two failed to turn up at a hotel in General Santos, a previously arranged rendezvous point; they were apparently frightened off by the heavy presence of Japanese media.

"We haven't met them and haven't talked to anyone who has had direct contact with them," said Shuhei Ogawa, a spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in Manila.

The incident drew comparisons to the resurfacing in the 1970s of two Japanese soldiers -- one in Guam and one in the Philippines -- who survived in the wild for decades, refusing to surrender or believe the war had ended.

Correspondent Ellen Nakashima in Manila and special correspondent Sachiko Sakamaki contributed to this report.


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