Abducted Japanese Reporter Released From Captivity in Afghanistan

TOKYO -- A Japanese journalist returned home Monday after militants in Afghanistan released him from five months in captivity.

In a series of messages from his Twitter account, freelance journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka said he had thought he would be killed, and that he was not being held by the Taliban, as reported in the Japanese media. His abductors were local militants posing as Taliban to deceive the Japanese government, he wrote.

Tsuneoka's captors apparently decided to release him because he is a fellow Muslim, Japan's Kyodo news agency said. According to his personal website, Tsuneoka converted to the religion in 2000 while in Moscow.

"I'm so relieved," 41-year-old Tsuneoka told a group of reporters shortly after landing in Japan's Kansai International Airport. "I'm sorry for all the trouble."

Smooth shaven and hair neatly combed, Tsuneoka seemed refreshed. Then he added: "I want to eat Japanese food."

Tsuneoka was kidnapped in April and released Saturday night to a Japanese Embassy.

When he wrote on his blog earlier Monday from Dubai, Tsuneoka thanked those who worried about him and worked for his release.

Tsuneoka had been missing since April 1, when he posted a message on Twitter saying he had traveled to a Taliban-controlled area in northern Afghanistan. Friends later received word that he had been kidnapped.

Hopes for his release grew over the weekend after two new messages in English suddenly emerged on his Twitter account. He assured his followers that he was alive and in jail in Kunduz. It was not clear how or why the messages were sent.

Tsuneoka had been abducted before. He went missing in Georgia in 2001 and was held for several months by unidentified individuals, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. He was freed during a Georgian military operation.

Tsuneoka is the latest of more than half a dozen foreign journalists kidnapped in Afghanistan, including two French reporters who were seized last December in Kapisa province just outside Kabul.

On Sunday, the French government said it had received proof in the last 10 days that the France-3 television reporters, Stephane Taponier and Herve Ghesquiere, are alive and in good health. It said negotiations for their release were interrupted during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, but were set to resume once it ends in a few days.

"We have good news about their health, they're doing well," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters at a news conference Monday. "In their case, the proof if life is very precious. We are resolutely optimistic in as much as we are doing everything we can so that they come out as soon as possible."

A New York Times reporter escaped last year along with an Afghan colleague seven months after being kidnapped while interviewing insurgents in the eastern province of Logar. Shortly after that, another New York Times reporter and his Afghan translator were kidnapped

Taliban insurgents in Kunduz, before being rescued in a British raid in which the translator and a British commando died.