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Japan: Diplomats shot in vehicles

The diplomats are due to be buried this weekend.
The diplomats are due to be buried this weekend.

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TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Two Japanese diplomats were shot dead in their armored vehicle in Iraq last weekend and not at a roadside stand as reported, officials in Tokyo say.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said Friday the new information came from the United States, refuting an earlier account from a local resident, who said the victims were buying refreshments when they were killed.

U.S. officials say they still have no information about who was responsible for the attack, and the investigation is ongoing.

Eyewitnesses said three or four vehicles ambushed the Japanese diplomats with automatic rifles Saturday near the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit -- the hometown of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein -- as they were traveling to a reconstruction conference.

Their Iraqi driver was also killed in the attack.

The bodies of Katsuhiko Oku, 45, who worked for the Japanese Embassy in London and who had been in Iraq for several months, and Masamori Inoue, 30, who worked for the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad, arrived in Tokyo on Thursday.

Their funerals are scheduled for Saturday.

The men were the first Japanese casualties in the war in Iraq.

The Japanese government, which has also come in for criticism from its electorate for supporting the U.S. war, has vowed to stay in Iraq to help in the reconstruction despite the deaths.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called the killings an outrage, but added: "Japan has a responsibility to provide humanitarian and reconstruction aid in Iraq. There is no change to our policy of not giving in to terrorism."

Japan's embassy in Baghdad remains open with the same levels of staffing. But public opinion is still against a Japanese presence in Iraq with a recent telephone opinion poll finding only 9 percent supporting the government's plan to dispatch troops to the region.

Plans to send more than 1,000 troops were delayed last month after a bomb attack on an Italian military police headquarters in Iraq that killed 19 Italians and 14 locals.

Japanese media reports say the Koizumi government will announce next week its arrangements for deploying troops to Iraq.

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