GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Japanese efforts to contact two World War II soldiers reportedly hiding in the southern Philippines have created a security nightmare with the presence Saturday of dozens of Japanese journalists in a region notorious for rebel attacks and kidnappings.
Japanese diplomats in General Santos (search) city, meanwhile, waited for a second day Saturday to interview the two men, who were reportedly separated from their division and fear they would face court-martial if they returned to Japan.
A Japanese trader living on the southern island of Mindanao spread the word to Japanese officials as early as January, embassy spokesman Shuhei Ogawa said. He confirmed reports that the businessman hasn't seen the men and was relying on a Filipino contact, who himself got word of the mystery men from yet another Filipino.
"You should know this type of information comes in all the time," he said. "We really have no idea if these two people exist."
Ogawa said the diplomats were in contact with the Japanese businessmen "trying to work out (the details of) a meeting."
On Friday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's (search) spokesman, Yu Kameoka, told The Associated Press in Tokyo the men were apparently reluctant to meet because of the large crowds, including about 100 Japanese journalists, waiting to see them.
On Saturday, even more Japanese journalists showed up, some flying in from Manila on chartered planes and booking many hotels in this bustling port city 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of the capital.
The Japanese Embassy posted a notice in Japanese warning reporters not to venture out of town in search of the men and not to follow anyone offering to guide them. Philippine police issued a similar warning, saying the area is notorious for ransom kidnappings and attacks by Muslim and communist guerrillas, who have waged war for three decades.
Japan's Kyodo News agency said the two missing soldiers might be Yoshio Yamakawa, 87, and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, 85, from the 30th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army (search). One Japanese news report claimed the two were seen by a Japanese lumber businessman in the mountains around General Santos last September, but were afraid to return home for fear of a court-martial because they had abandoned their unit.
Beyond the unconfirmed reports, there was little else to suggest that the men are real. There was speculation they might have married Filipino wives and even adopted Filipino names.
Years after the war, there were reports of Japanese soldiers still in the hills.
A few surrendered as late as 1948, then in March 1974, intelligence officer Lt. Hiroo Onoda came out of hiding on northern Lubang island. He refused to give up until the Japanese government flew in his former commander to formally inform him the war was over.
There have been rumors of other soldiers hiding out, but never substantiated and thought to be a hoax.
Last September, a Japanese national in the lumber business ran into the men in the mountains, the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun (search) reported. It was learned later that they wanted to go back to Japan but were afraid of facing a court-martial for withdrawing from action, the newspaper said.
Another source told the paper that there may be more than 40 other Japanese soldiers living in the mountains and that they all want to return to Japan, the Sankei said.
Japan's Kyodo News agency said the two may be Yoshio Yamakawa, 87, and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, 83. But the health ministry declined to confirm the report, saying they could not disclose any information until officials have identified them.