Japanese go to battle in Sweden to keep the peace: Annika Savill and Terry Mccarthy report on courses for training soldiers to act for the UN in world disputes

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JAPAN'S painful battle to join the world's peace-keeping efforts is being played out on the training fields of Sweden. Thirty-five Japanese officers arrived this week for a fortnight-long course at Sweden's United Nations Training Centre outside the town of Sodertalje, where they will attend a plethora of lectures by Swedish officers from missions with names such as Untag, Onuca, and Swedlog-Unifil.

The Swedes, who have not fought a war for 200 years, are well placed to educate the constitutionally impaired Japanese in 'the ethos of the UN'. Throughout decades of neutrality, Sweden has sent thousands of troops abroad in the name of the UN charter. The Japanese government - determined to break the taboo of sending troops abroad despite a constitution that bans the use of force to settle international disputes - has paid Sweden pounds 1,400 per officer to prepare them for their first UN peace- keeping operation in Cambodia this autumn.

This is an exercise in walking on eggshells. When asked by the Independent why the official programme included two hours on 'Use of Force', the Swedish officer in charge of the course explained hurriedly: 'It's a computer error. It should say 'Use of Force in Self-Defence'.'

Under the peace-keeping bill passed by parliament on 15 June, Japanese peace-keepers will not be allowed to monitor ceasefire agreements, patrol buffer zones, search for landmines, collect abandoned weapons, search for weapons on vehicles, help set up ceasefire lines or assist in the exchange of prisoners of war. They will carry small arms, and will be allowed to use them only to defend their own lives. They are obliged to retreat immediately from an area if hostilities break out. They will be allowed to arrange for refugee aid, medical care, basic construction, communications and transport.

Brigadier-General Bo Pellnas, who is in charge of the training programme, said devising the course was 'not particularly tricky'. 'We are not teaching them to take territory and hold it to stop warring parties advancing. One of the key techniques in peace-keeping is precisely to position oneself in between the warring parties.'

Instead, the Japanese will sit through endless lectures illustrating the UN's role in Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Central America, the Persian Gulf and Lebanon. They will be given a run-down of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. They will stage 'One day in X- land' to practise 'application of negotiating tactics' in a fictitious hotspot, with Swedish officers taking the parts of warring parties A, B and C.

As for the 'Use of Force in Self- Defence' lesson, Gen Pellnas said: 'Self-defence is one of the basic human rights. The right to life is in the first paragraph of the UN declaration of human rights. We are simply illustrating basic UN ethics.'

The Swedes look forward to a long and fruitful alliance with the Japanese. 'A small country like Sweden relies upon the UN in much of its foreign policy,' said Gen Pellnas. 'In getting a strong nation like Japan committed, we will get help back from them in pushing things through at the UN, both on a political and administrative level.' Sweden is lobbying for a seat among the rotating members of the Security Council and Japan aspires to a permanent membership.

The lingua franca of the course, as in UN peace-keeping operations, is English. Only those with a working knowledge of the language have been selected, and all were given a two-week refresher course before leaving Japan. 'We are insisting they speak exclusively English with each other over dinner,' said a Swedish officer. Even so, one soldier said many were having problems with English, and that they would have to 'bluff their way through'.