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Japanese troops prepare for Cambodia

JAPANESE peace-keeping troops may be sent to Cambodia in October - the first time since the Second World War that any Japanese military personnel will have been sent overseas. But political restraints in Tokyo and the lingering memories of Japan's invasion of the Asian mainland 50 years ago will prevent them from taking on any real military duties.

Meanwhile, fighting goes on in northern Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge continues to defy United Nations attempts to impose a cease-fire. At a meeting in Phnom Penh on Wednesday between the four rival Cambodian factions and the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac), the Khmer Rouge refused to disband its fighting units and give up weapons.

Yasushi Akashi, a former Japanese diplomat who is the head of Untac, has said he will make an appeal to the UN Security Council for sanctions to be imposed on the Khmer Rouge.

After a two-year struggle in the Diet, Japan's parliament, a bill was passed last month allowing Japanese troops to take part in UN peace-keeping operations. But the bill - which was bitterly attacked by opposition parties - puts strict limits on the number of soldiers who can be dispatched overseas and on the kind of duties they can perform. The legislation was also strongly criticised by China and South Korea, two of Japan's neighbours who suffered most under the Japanese military during the Second World War.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Kiichi Miyazawa, the Prime Minister, was determined to push the bill through in time to allow the Japanese military to play a role in the Cambodian peace- keeping plan. The government is keen to make Cambodia a test case for a more assertive foreign policy following international criticism of Japan's hesitant reaction to the Gulf war.

A Japanese government fact-finding team returned from Cambodia this week to report to Mr Miyazawa on the current operations of other Untac personnel and the logistics of sending Japanese troops. Mr Akashi has said he wants his government to send up to 700 military engineers, as well as civilian police officers and election supervisors. He will make a formal request for these troops in August, with a view to their arriving in October.

But these soldiers will present a very different face to the men of the Imperial Army who conquered half of Asia during the Second World War. Under the terms of the new peace-keeping bill the Japanese troops will not be allowed to carry anything more than pistols for self- defence, and if other Untac troops come under fire the Japanese soldiers are technically required to withdraw from the scene of combat. They will not even be allowed to take part in mine-clearing operations.

The Japanese press has devoted much space to the problems of the Cambodian peace plan, and already some doubts are starting to be raised. Interviews with members of the Self Defence Forces, as the military is called, have shown many are nervous about health risks and the dangers of being exposed to combat should they be sent on peace-keeping missions to Cambodia or other potential hot spots.