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Japan prepares troops for Rwanda

JAPAN will send peacekeepers to help the Rwanda aid mission but they will not enter the country itself to avoid becoming involved in military action, the cabinet decided yesterday. The decision came as Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the United Nations Secretary General, now visiting Japan, urged his hosts to take a higher profile in the UN and contribute more to its operations overseas.

Japan's foreign policy, which has been regarded for years as timid and largely under American guidance, has recently become the subject of domestic debate. The argument that Japan must play a greater role in world affairs is gradually attracting more support. The main issue is whether Tokyo should aspire to a permanent seat on the Security Council, which would require frequent and rapid decision-making on matters of war and peace. Until now Japan has shunned involvement in international conflicts because of its anti- war constitution.

Mr Boutros-Ghali has said he supports Japanese permanent membership of the Security Council, and in a press conference yesterday he tried to play down the fears of the Japanese of being dragged into international conflicts against their will. 'There is no relationship between the membership in the Security Council and the necessity to participate in peacekeeping operations,' he said. The indecision and lack of consensus inside Japan was illustrated yesterday by a dispute over what weapons should go with the 470 troops, who will be in Zaire helping to provide sanitation and medical assistance to Rwandan refugees and co-ordinating airlifts. The defence agency said the troops would need weapons for their personal safety - pistols, rifles and at least two machineguns.

The pacifist Socialist Party, the governing coalition's second largest party, objected. Eventually a compromise was agreed under which one machinegun would be sent, and one pistol or rifle for every two military personnel.