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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 January, 2004, 14:56 GMT
Japanese press questions troop dispatch
Japanese Soldiers leaving for Iraq
The troops left for Iraq in civilian gear

Newspapers in Japan have expressed serious reservations over the sending of troops to Iraq.

On the day that an advance contingent of Japanese troops arrived in Kuwait, editorials ask whether the government is going about boosting the country's international presence in the right way.

The mass-circulation Asahi Shimbun is unequivocal in its opposition, pointing out that although the troops are meant to take part in reconstruction projects they will inevitably have to co-operate closely with the occupying forces.

"We are opposed to the dispatch of the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) at this time when, in effect, they will be helping the US military's occupation of Iraq," the paper declares.

'Opening up'

Asahi Shimbun takes issue with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's assertion that the deployment of Japanese troops in Iraq represents a new "opening-up" of the country, showing that Japan is prepared to shoulder its responsibilities as a main player on the international scene.

This mission's circumstances will be clearly different from those of other peacekeeping missions
Yomiuri Shimbun

It says it is not opposed to opening up, but questions whether sending troops to Iraqi is likely to achieve this aim.

"We are opposed to the Koizumi administration's policy not because we are treating reconstruction assistance lightly. It is because even though we welcome the collapse of the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, we cannot approve of that war."

The paper's editorial concludes with a sombre reminder of the reason for Japan's pacifist constitution.

" 'Opening up the country' requires understanding the world and being resolved to coexist with various countries. Japan has an experience of forgetting that and treading the path of isolationism, which eventually led to its destruction."

Safety concerns

Another national daily, Yomiuri Shimbun, says the safety of troops in a potentially hostile environment is a matter of great concern.

The paper points out that Iraq differs greatly from places such as East Timor, where Japanese troops are currently carrying out peacekeeping duties under the auspices of the UN.

Japan's international contributions must not be premised on carrying weapons and preparing for battle
Okinawa Times

"In these places, all five principles for SDF participation, such as the existence of a ceasefire agreement between disputing forces, are met; and the activities fall under a UN framework...

"This mission's circumstances will be clearly different from those of other peacekeeping missions."

It urges the government to revise the guidelines issued to troops on the use of weapons, saying that the current guidelines do not take into account the especially dangerous conditions Japanese troops are likely to face in Iraq.

Reputation at stake

The Okinawa Times warns that sending armed troops to Iraq could compromise Japan's hard-won reputation as a peace-loving country.

"Japan's international contributions must not be premised on carrying weapons and preparing for battle," the paper says.

If this became the case, "Japan would lose its international reputation it built up after World War II as a country that provides aid via peaceful means on the basis of its pacifist constitution."

Another Okinawa paper, Ryukyu Shimpo, echoes this sentiment, saying that the desire to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq does not justify military involvement.

"The pacifist Japanese constitution is being rendered ineffective as SDF troops are being dispatched to Iraq without a legitimate reason - and even if it were a worthy cause, that cause should not be used as an excuse."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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