Trained in a political minefield

SERGEANT Mutsumi Ikeda practises defusing a landmine at the Japan Defence Force training school in Ibaraki, a skill Japanese peace-keepers in Cambodia will be allowed to employ only if they come across a minefield by accident, writes Raymond Whitaker.

Last month, the Tokyo government obtained parliamentary approval to break the postwar taboo on sending Japanese troops abroad. It wanted the legislation passed in time for Japan to join the peacekeeping operation in Cambodia by this autumn, but was forced to make numerous concessions to the opposition, including a prohibition on Japanese soldiers searching for mines.

The curbs reflect the low status of the military in Japan, which has difficulty finding enough recruits. A former beauty queen, Yori Takayoshi, who is now an army lance-corporal, is being used in a television advertising campaign for military careers. 'We have two days off a week,' she tells viewers. 'We are looking for people who like peace.'

(Photograph omitted)