Cambodia attack rekindles debate on Japan troops

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TWO CAMBODIANS working for the United Nations and a little girl were killed this week and two UN policemen were injured during a rocket attack on a UN compound in the northern province of Siem Reap.

The UN barracks was also burnt to the ground during the attack by unkown assailants.

While the UN condemned this assault - the first such attack that left UN employees dead - in Japan the media were more interested in the destroyed building, because it normally housed five Japanese policemen, part of the country's 600-strong contingent in the UN peace-keeping force.

Fortunately for the five Japanese, they were on holiday in Bangkok during the attack. But the question asked around Tokyo after Tuesday night's attack was: what if a Japanese had been injured, or even killed?

According to the special peace-keeping law hammered out after two years of debate in the parliament, all Japan's troops in Cambodia must be withdrawn if the ceasefire is broken. Some might argue that the ceasefire is already in tatters, but up to now the infringements have come nowhere near the areas where most of the Japanese are stationed. 'But just wait until Tokyo starts receiving body bags - there will be all hell to pay,' said a diplomat in Tokyo.

Yohei Kono, the chief cabinet spokesman, said the government was not considering withdrawing its troops after the attack, but would ask the UN further to ensure the safety of Japanese in Cambodia. But, privately, Japanese officials admit they are terrified that if a Japanese is wounded or killed the pressure on the government to pull out of Cambodia early might become irresistible.

No country likes the idea of its young men being killed far from home defending a cause that has only the most tenuous connection with domestic concerns. But in Japan there is a second, much deeper, reason for the misgivings over Japanese troops taking part in UN peace-keeping operations.

What if the Japanese troops are put in a position of having to fire back? Not only would that seem to be an outright violation of the anti-war constitution, but the Japanese would shudder to think what other Asian countries might think of Japanese troops again taking lives on the Asian mainland, less than 50 years after the Second World War.

It is precisely concerns such as these that the Prime Minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, is trying to address during his current tour of South-east Asia. Mr Miyazawa is due to give his main policy speech in Bangkok today.

But, at the same time, other Japanese, including senior members of the rulng party, are beginning to argue that Japan should no longer be shackled to the terms of the post-war constitution, which was drawn up by the occupation forces of General Douglas MacArthur in an attempt to prevent Japan ever becoming a military threat to Asia again.