Japanese troop scheme fuels veterans' fury

Global policing: Soldiers invited to train in UK in bid to enlist Tokyo as a peace-keeper
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Michael Portillo, Secretary of State for Defence, is to invite members of the Japanese armed forces for training in Britain in an effort to overcome Tokyo's long-standing aversion to deploying its troops overseas.

The decision is likely to cause uproar among veterans of the war against the Japanese in the Far East. Japanese officers have trained at British staff colleges for years but the appearance of a contingent of troops would be more emotive. "I would say 'no'," said Keith Syler, a veteran of the Burma campaign who has worked with men who were Japanese prisoners of war. "I'm not at all happy about having Japanese soldiers here. One forgives a lot but the way they behaved was abominable."

During a visit to Japan beginning tomorrow, Mr Portillo and his opposite number, Seishiro Eto, will discuss a scheme to train members of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces at the Ministry of Defence's urban warfare training school in Warminster.

The programme begins this year and will draw on British expertise acquired in Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia. Apart from the financial contribution by Tokyo towards the cost of training, the scheme is seen by British officials as a useful step towards Japanese participation in multinational military operations.

The country's post-war constitution technically forbids the maintenance of armed forces. After agonised debate, Japan sent policemen to the UN operation in Cambodia, and will this year send a token force to the Golan Heights.

But Tokyo's reluctance to take a bigger responsibility for global policing has caused resentment in the UN and hampered its bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council.

British diplomats say Mr Portillo will lend his support to Japan's Security Council aspirations on the understanding that it gradually assumes a greater peace-keeping role. "He isn't going out there with a shopping-list," said an adviser to Mr Portillo. "But a year from now, when the situation in Bosnia has settled down, it's likely that the Japanese will contribute money and personnel."

Mr Portillo will be the first British defence minister to visit Japan since 1973. In meetings with the Foreign Minister, Yohei Kono, and Mr Eto, he will also discuss Asian regional security, particularly that of China and North Korea, and the possibility of increased British arms sales in Japan.

Absent from the public agenda, although no doubt the subject of private discussions, will be the issue of compensation for former British PoWs, a group of whom are suing the Japanese for individual compensation of pounds 14,000.

Mr Portillo will lay a wreath at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Yokohama but is unlikely to repeat the eulogy of the "proud and erect" veterans of the war against Japan which formed part of his speech to the Conservative Party conference.

Proposals by the Japanese to defuse the row by setting up a fund for veterans' organisations have been abandoned for fear they would be rebuffed. Since the debacle in August, when then Japanese prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama, sent a letter of apology for Japanese atrocities to John Major, which he later appeared to retract, both governments have agreed that the issue is best left alone to solve itself as the number of surviving PoWs dwindles.