TEHRAN (Reuters) – A Japanese man in his 20s has been kidnapped while traveling in southeastern Iran, the latest tourist to be abducted in the volatile region, Japanese officials and Iranian media said on Thursday.
The man was seized by bandits in the province of Kerman on Monday and security forces have launched a “vast search operation,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency said, citing unnamed “informed sources” in the region.
In Tokyo, top government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura said the kidnapped man called the Japanese embassy in Tehran on Monday to tell staff there about his situation, and he phoned them again on Wednesday,
“This is truly a regrettable situation,” he told reporters in Tokyo. “We are doing all we can to secure his release.”
Southeastern Iran is notorious for clashes between the military and well-armed drug smugglers. Other tourists, including a couple from Belgium, have been abducted there recently. Some have been held for weeks as kidnappers tried to secure detained relatives’ release from jail.
IRNA and another Iranian news agency, Fars, both reported the kidnapping quoting unnamed local sources, but provincial officials contacted by Reuters said they had not heard about it.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini also said he could not yet confirm the reports. “We are following up this issue and I told them (officials in charge) to let me know what has happened,” he told Reuters.
Machimura said the Japanese government had no information about any demands the man’s captors may have made.
Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said he had asked his counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, for cooperation in dealing with the incident.
Japanese media said the man was a 23-year-old university student, but officials declined to give further details.
Iran’s border regions with Afghanistan and Pakistan are a major smuggling route for drugs and other contraband. More than 3,300 Iranian security personnel have died in the region fighting drug traffickers since Iran’s 1979 revolution.
In August, Pakistani police freed 21 Iranian hostages in a two-hour shootout with gunmen who had seized them in southeastern Iran, according to local officials.