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Japan's peace force fuels strife at home

THE Japanese government is coming under fierce attack from opposition politicians over its decision to send peace-keepers to Mozambique, reigniting an old battle over the extent to which Japan can play a full role in world affairs.

The cabinet has announced that 53 Japanese troops would be sent to Mozambique next month to prepare for UN-sponsored elections there, but the opposition says the plan violates a highly restrictive peace-keeping law passed last year.

Meanwhile, a deputy foreign minister has come under fire for asking UN officials in Cambodia to give special treatment to Japanese UN workers so that they are not exposed to danger. Concern about Cambodia has mounted after the murder last month of a civilian Japanese election monitor by unknown assailants in Kompong Thom province.

The controversies which surround Japanese participation in both countries again highlight the lingering unease in Japanese society about taking part in overseas peace-keeping missions. In theory, Japan has no armed forces because the constitution specifically bans the use of force.

In practice, Japan has one of the best-equipped forces in Asia and is anxious to overcome distrust among its neighbours by setting its troops to work in peace-keeping missions. Because of Japan's refusal to apologise fully for its aggression in the Second World War, there is considerable fear, both around Asia and in Japan, of its resuming a military role.

Only a year ago there were parliamentary battles over the government's proposal to send peace-keepers to Cambodia, and a special law severely restricted what the 600 Japanese soldiers could do. They were chosen from an engineering battalion, and assigned to mend roads in a relatively peaceful part of Cambodia. But the opposition now says it was right to warn that this was the thin end of the wedge.

The dispatch of 53 soldiers to Mozambique marks a further step towards a full peace-keeping role for Japan: five will be assigned to the command headquarters, where decisions on the need to deploy armed UN contingents will be taken.

Opposition politicians say this directly contravenes the peace-keeping law of last year. The government says the five men will be sent 'in an individual capacity', and their duties will be kept separate from those working on military matters. The opposition says that is meaningless doublespeak.