Subject: SMH: Japan mulls peacekeeper position in East Timor

also: Kyodo: SDF may help in East Timor

Sydney Morning Herald June 23, 2001

Japan mulls peacekeeper position in East Timor

Photo: Home guard ... East Timorese soldiers parade during a graduation ceremony in Alieu. Almost 250 cadets were formally inducted into the East Timor Defence Force after a four-month training course. Photo: AFP/Kerry Weavind

By Michael Millett, Herald Correspondent in Tokyo

Japan is considering abandoning its longstanding ban on international peacekeeping by contributing a force to East Timor.

The director-general of the Defence Agency, Mr Gen Nakatani, told United Nations officials yesterday that his country would give "serious thought" to the idea.

The move could necessitate changes to Japan's rigid rules on peacekeeping contributions, such as restricting the use of weapons to protecting its own personnel.

The UN's deputy secretary-general, Ms Louise Frechette, told Mr Nakatani that the ground rules were a distinct "negative", preventing Japanese forces coming to the aid of UN officials.

Mr Nakatani said he would visit East Timor soon to assess the need for a new peacekeeping effort and would also send members of the Self-Defence Forces to other international peacekeeping exercises.

The comments confirm the intention of the Government of Mr Junichiro Koizumi to take a more assertive role in diplomatic and security matters, despite substantial domestic and international resistance.

The Prime Minister has expressed irritation that the limitations of Japan's war-renouncing Constitution and the mindset that flows from it are inhibiting the nation's ability to contribute effectively to international peacekeeping operations.

While there is growing global support for a renewed Japanese peacekeeping role, the issue has become part of a wider debate over the future of Article Nine in the Constitution, which renounces the use of force as a tool in settling international disputes.

Mr Nakatani has sided with Mr Koizumi in calling for a new debate on reinterpreting or altering Article Nine to permit Japan's Self-Defence Forces, among the best-equipped and financed in the world, to play a bigger regional and international role.

That suggestion has prompted an angry backlash from Japan's Asian neighbours and from pacifist groups inside the country.

Japan shunned international pressure to contribute forces to the initial peacekeeping mission in East Timor two years ago, although it financed much of the exercise.

The Government, an unwieldy coalition of right- and left-wing elements, was unwilling to expend political capital in getting the ban lifted, given strict ground rules governing Japanese participation and "five principles", which require a ceasefire to be in operation before troops can be deployed - something not applicable in the East Timor situation.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Mr Downer, has been pushing for Japan to ease these self-imposed constraints.

In Tokyo last month he argued that the world's second-biggest economy had an obligation to act as more than a "bank" for peacekeeping operations.

"It is an issue of burden sharing. Why should Australians take risks the Japanese are not prepared to take?" he said, echoing the argument used by the US when Japan sat on its hands in the Gulf War.

Mr Nakatani, the first head of the Defence Agency to come from the defence forces, is understood to be keen to move quickly on the issue.

However, he will have to overcome resistance in government ranks, particularly from the populist New Komeito party.

 

SDF may help in East Timor

NEW YORK (Kyodo) Defense Agency chief Gen Nakatani said Thursday that Japan may deploy a Self-Defense Forces contingent in East Timor, should fresh peacekeeping operations be needed after its independence is officially recognized, Japanese officials said.

"We must give it serious thought. We would like to consider such a possibility when the specifics of the needs and scale become clear," Nakatani was quoted as telling Louise Frechette, deputy secretary general of the U.N., during talks at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

At a news conference following the talks, Nakatani suggested that he will visit East Timor to explore the possibility of deployment.

Nakatani stressed that the move applies to fresh peacekeeping operations and not to the current peacekeeping effort under way in East Timor. He indicated Japan would engage in deployment of this kind in January or afterward.

Frechette asked that Japan play a greater role in peacekeeping, saying that if Japanese missions cannot protect fellow peacekeepers from other countries, it would have a negative effect on Japanese participation, according to the officials.

Nakatani said Japan intends to send SDF personnel as individual participants to the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization, which is monitoring several ceasefires in the Middle East.

He also indicated Japan's willingness to send SDF personnel to the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

as well as to strengthen and expand the SDF mission currently participating in the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

During a phone conversation Thursday with Richard Armitage, U.S. deputy secretary of state, Nakatani was told that the entire administration of President George W. Bush is preparing for the Japan-U.S. summit at Camp David, Md., on June 30.

Armitage also indicated that Japan's economic reform plans and security issues will form the main agenda of the talks, officials said.

Nakatani, on his first U.S. visit since becoming defense minister on April 26, later arrived in Washington for talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The talks were to take place Friday.

Topics on the agenda include the U.S. missile defense plan, means of promoting the Japan-U.S. alliance, the situation in China and on the Korean Peninsula, and U.S. military bases in Okinawa, according to the officials.

Nakatani will return to Tokyo on Sunday.

The Japan Times: June 23, 2001


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