TOKYO (Reuters) - Three freed Japanese hostages left Iraq on Friday as the government in Tokyo breathed a sigh of relief, but a controversy was brewing after two said they still wanted to work in the war-torn country.
The release of Noriaki Imai, 18, freelance journalist Soichiro Koriyama, 32, and aid worker Nahoko Takato, 34, was a boon for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who had faced his biggest political challenge to date after militants threatened to kill them unless he pulled Japanese troops out of Iraq.
But the fate of two other missing Japanese remained unclear and debate over Tokyo's military mission raged on.
Koizumi, a staunch supporter of the United States in Iraq, vowed again to keep Japanese troops in Iraq, but admitted he had faced a painful decision while the three hostages were in danger.
"We could not give in to the demands of the captors. But we had to rescue the three," he told reporters.
"It was a difficult job."
The three flew to Dubai on Friday and were taken to hospital for stress tests, Japanese officials said. They were likely to return to Japan at the weekend. But at least two expressed an intention to carry on their work in Iraq.
"I will continue," said a tearful Takato, when asked whether she planned to keep on with her aid work. "They did some awful things, but I cannot bring myself to hate the Iraqi people."
Koriyama's mother, Kimiko, said her son told her shortly after being freed that he wanted to stay in Iraq to take photos, Kyodo news agency said.
The three had already come under criticism in some quarters for traveling to Iraq despite the obvious dangers and on Friday, Koizumi reacted angrily when asked about their desire to return.
"A great number of people in the government, forgetting food and sleep, worked for their rescue," a visibly irritated Koizumi said. "They should realize this."
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Two freed Japanese want to return to Iraq
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