Paraguayan kidnappers free Japanese secretary

ASUNCION (Kyodo) Sawako Yamaguchi, one of four people kidnapped last week in Caaguazu, Paraguay, was released early Tuesday, according to a senior official of the Unification Church.

The release of the 37-year-old secretary to Japanese businessman and local real-estate company president Hirokazu Ota, 62, who was kidnapped with her April 1, was confirmed by the Unification Church, which has been working to have them released. Both Japanese are members.

Local TV station Canal 9 first reported Yamaguchi’s release but did not give the location of her release or of her captors. No information was available about Ota or the Paraguayan couple kidnapped with the two Japanese after they came across the abduction in progress. The Paraguayans are a police officer and a female acquaintance.

Local police sources have said police believe the abductors, who reportedly had been holding the four people for a ransom of $ 750,000, are a relatively new group. There are between 20 and 25 people in the group, mainly in their 20s and 30s. They are mostly Paraguayans, but there are also seven Brazilians and four Argentines, they said.

Many of the kidnappers have criminal records, including murder and other violent acts, and among them are four former Paraguayan police officers expelled from the force for their involvement in crimes, the sources said.

At least three groups that had been committing burglaries and murders in Caaguazu and Ciudad del Este, in Alto Parana, formed one group and began kidnapping people around January, according to the sources. This new group is believed to have been involved in four other kidnappings in the last four months.

Paraguay’s national police in Alto Parana, in charge of the kidnapping case, so far have identified the captor who spoke over the telephone to negotiators, the sources said, and another has been identified based on witness’ accounts of the thefts of two cars used in the kidnapping.

The police have also learned that the ransom calls were made from Ciudad del Este, a city near the Brazilian border, according to the sources.

On Monday, the police arrested three Paraguayans on suspicion of selling one of the kidnappers an IC chip for the cell phone used by the group to make the ransom calls.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday April 11, 2007.
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