Subject: Japan to prepare military for East Timor peacekeeping

Reuters, Tuesday, November 6, 2001

Japan to prepare military for East Timor peacekeeping

TOKYO - Japan is to begin preparations to send its military to East Timor next March for its largest-ever participation in a U.N. peacekeeping operation, government officials said on Tuesday.

The overseas dispatch of Self-Defence Forces (SDF) has long been a hot topic at home and throughout Asia, where memories of Japan's past militarism run deep.

Such sensitivities were reflected in debates leading up to last week's enactment of a bill to allow Japan to send its military abroad to back up U.S.-led strikes in Afghanistan.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference that preparations would officially begin now for Japanese soldiers to take part in peacekeeping operations in East Timor next year.

Tokyo plans to send around 700 SDF members for rear-guard logistical duties, said Yoshi Hiraishi, director for the Secretariat of the International Peace Cooperation Headquarters.

"The exact number is still undecided, but we are in talks with the United Nations about sending nearly 700 personnel," he said, adding that the first soldiers should arrive around March.

East Timor has been under U.N. administration since late 1999 after more than two decades of often-brutal occupation by Indonesia.

The U.N. Security Council last week endorsed the May 20 date the East Timorese have set for independence and said some 5,000 peacekeepers and other U.N. personnel would stay in the territory until then.

The council also endorsed plans for a successor mission to remain in East Timor after independence as outlined in a report by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last month.

Hiraishi said SDF soldiers could stay in East Timor for about two years, depending on the duration of the U.N. successor mission. They will be engaged in such activities as repairing and building roads and bridges, he said.

The contingent would exceed the 600 SDF soldiers that took part in U.N. peacekeeping in Cambodia in 1992, making it Japan's largest manpower contribution to international peacekeeping since the passage of the U.N. Peacekeeping Cooperation Law that year.

The law opened the way for Japanese soldiers to join U.N. peacekeeping in non-combat, logistical roles, but prohibits participation in operations such as separating warring factions or overseeing the laying down of arms.

Japanese soldiers have played non-combat roles in U.N. peacekeeping operations and humanitarian relief efforts in Cambodia, Mozambique, Rwanda, the Golan Heights and East Timor.

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