Japan's prime minister said Wednesday that his government had not confirmed the release of a Japanese engineer kidnapped by tribesmen in Yemen, after sources there said he had been freed.
"Unfortunately, I have not confirmed that he has been released," Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters. "But I hope his release will come soon."
Top government spokesman Hirofumi Hirano added that Japan had received no indication the engineer, a member of a Japanese aid agency operating in Yemen, had been physically harmed.
Gunmen kidnapped the man -- whom Japanese media have identified as Takeo Mashimo, 63 -- in Arhab, a region northeast of the Yemeni capital Sanaa, on Sunday to seek the release of a fellow tribesman detained by the authorities.
A tribal leader in Yemen said on Tuesday that he had negotiated the Japanese citizen's release and that he was on his way to Sanaa.
Japan's Jiji Press, however, reported that the engineer was still being held captive after the Yemeni government refused the tribesmen's demands.
Yemeni tribes have previously kidnapped foreigners to try to put pressure on local authorities. More than 200 foreigners have been seized during the past 15 years, with most being freed unharmed.
Two Japanese women were released in May last year after briefly being taken hostage by Yemeni tribesmen.