Thursday, May 26, 2005

Japanese WWII Vets Found in Jungle

Japanese soldiers found in jubgle

Japanese officials in the Philippines are interviewing two men who claim to be Japanese soldiers living in the jungle since the end of World War II.
The pair, now in their 80s, were found on the southern island of Mindanao.

They reportedly said they wanted to return to Japan, but were afraid of facing a court martial.

In 1974, a Japanese soldier, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, was found in the Philippines jungle, unaware that the war had ended 29 years previously.

'Incredible if true'

The two men on Mindanao had contacted a Japanese national who was collecting the remains of war dead on Mindanao, according to government sources. They had equipment which suggested they were former soldiers.

"It is an incredible story if it is true," Japan's consul general in Manila, Akio Egawa, told the AFP news agency.

"They were found, I believe, in the mountains near General Santos on Mindanao Island. "At this stage we are not saying either way whether or not these two men are in fact former soldiers. We may be in a better position later today," he said.

Brutal occupation

Mindanao has seen more than two decades of Muslim rebellion and many areas are out of central government control.

Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and set up a brutal puppet government. In the closing months of the war, there was heavy fighting with US troops in the mountainous, heavily forested islands.

The Sankei Shimbun daily said the men would most likely be members of the Panther division, 80% of whom were killed or went missing during the final months of the war. It speculated there could be as many as 40 Japanese soldiers living in similar conditions in the Philippines.

When Lt Onoda was found on the Philippines island of Lubang in 1974, he initially refused to surrender. Only when his former commanding officer was flown over from Japan did he agree to leave the jungle. He later emigrated to Brazil.


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