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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Japan sends out first women soldiers
Japanese peacekeeper oversees the unloading of a UN vehicle in East Timor
Japan's contribution to the UN force is its largest yet
Seven Japanese women have made history by becoming the country's first female soldiers to be on an overseas mission.


It is an age in which women work in various areas

Sergeant Azusa Takahashi
They set off on Wednesday from the northern island of Hokkaido for East Timor, to join Japan's existing contingent of peacekeepers there.

"Being the first women means a lot of pressure, but I want to do my best, partly for the sake of the women who will come after us," one was quoted as saying.

Along with 223 male colleagues, the women will be responsible mainly for transport and communications duties.

Pioneers

The unit is due to arrive in the Timorese capital, Dili, on Thursday to join the more than 400 Japanese soldiers already stationed there.

Refugees following Australian peacekeeping soldier
The new unit will join a multinational force
Japan's contribution to the UN peacekeeping mission in East Timor is its largest such deployment of troops.

"It is an age in which women work in various areas," said Sergeant Azusa Takahashi, as she set off, dressed in a camouflage uniform and a blue beret.

The father of one said: "I have no concerns over her duties but I am worried whether she can stay healthy."

Wider role

Japan's constitution forbids it from sending troops into combat overseas. Its peacekeepers can use their weapons to defend themselves only if they are attacked.

However, in December, the Japanese parliament passed a law allowing its troops to play an expanded role in international peace missions.

Japanese peacekeepers have previously been deployed in the Golan Heights, Mozambique and Cambodia.

East Timor is scheduled to assume full independence on 20 May - it is currently under UN administration.

The territory voted in 1999 for independence from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 East Timorese are believed to have died during the 25-year occupation by Indonesia and at least 1,000 people were killed before and after the 1999 plebiscite.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Japan commits troops to East Timor
08 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Q&A: Japan's Self Defence Force
09 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
East Timor chooses political system
30 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: East Timor's 25 turbulent years
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Japan
24 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: East Timor
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