Subject: KY: GSDF contingent sets sail for U.N. duty in East Timor

GSDF contingent sets sail for U.N. duty in East Timor

SAPPORO (Kyodo) Ground Self-Defense Force troops left Hokkaido's Muroran port Friday for East Timor aboard an amphibious force ship, the first contingent of the main unit that will engage in United Nations peacekeeping operations there.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force's 8,900-ton Osumi departed from the port with 47 members of the force's Northern Army and 72 vehicles, including trucks.

The vessel, accompanied by the 2,950-ton destroyer Mineyuki, is scheduled to arrive in Suai, East Timor, on March 26, GSDF officials said.

The troops will establish a base facility and unload cargo before the arrival of the remaining members of the main unit, who are scheduled to leave in two teams on March 22 and April 10.

An advance team of 50 GSDF members arrived in Dili earlier this month and is preparing for the arrival of the main unit.

In total, 680 service members will participate in the peacekeeping operation -- the largest Japanese mission ever -- in East Timor over a period of six months.

The soldiers will take over road and bridge maintenance from more than 1,000 Bangladeshi and Pakistani engineers who are expected to depart in May as part of the ongoing downsizing of the peacekeeping force.

After 350 years of Portuguese rule, East Timor briefly gained independence in 1974. But in 1975, Indonesia invaded the territory and annexed it a year later, an action the U.N. never recognized.

East Timor is to become an independent state May 20, after adopting a constitution and holding a presidential election in April.

The Japan Times: March 16, 2002

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