Sun, Dec 28, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Japan's first air force relief unit arrives in Kuwait


The first unit of Japan's air force arrived in Kuwait early yesterday to set the stage for humanitarian operations into Iraq, airport sources said.

The 15-member unit arrived aboard a British Airways flight from London. They were all clad in civilian clothes.

A second unit comprising five personnel and headed by the advance party chief, Colonel Tadashi Miyagawa, headed to Qatar to make the necessary arrangements for the Japanese mission in Iraq, the sources said.

In Kuwait, the Japanese airmen will be stationed at Ali Al-Salem Air Base, some 80km northwest of Kuwait City, also close to the borders with Iraq.

The second contingent of the Japanese air force is due to arrive in the emirate by mid-January, Japanese sources in Kuwait said.

A top Japanese envoy, Ichiro Aisawa, senior vice minister for foreign affairs, held talks here on Dec. 17 with Kuwaiti officials who promised to extend strong support to the Japanese operations.

humanitarian aid

The Japanese air force unit will operate from Kuwait to transport goods and humanitarian aid to southern Iraq as part of Japan's reconstruction program in the war-ravaged country.

Aisawa said the first Japanese land troops would start arriving in Kuwait to go to Iraq "next year," adding that the troops would not take part in any fighting or security operations there.

On Dec. 9, Japan's Cabinet formally approved a controversial plan to send troops to Iraq on a humanitarian mission, in the first such deployment since 1945.

Under the plan, troops will be sent to the southeastern Iraqi province of Muthanna to provide medical services and water supplies, restore war-damaged buildings and transport material but not weapons.

Japan has pledged US$5 billion towards reconstruction in Iraq, where two of its diplomats were shot dead in an attack on Nov. 29.

The advance unit is supposed to check airport safety and make other preparations to receive about 150 other air force members, possibly in January.

The dispatch is part of Japan's plan to send a total of some 1,000 personnel to the region to engage in humanitarian and reconstruction work in Iraq.

Japan's air force was making final arrangements for sending three air force C130 transport planes on January 26 for Kuwait from the Komaki airbase in central Japan, Jiji Press news agency said.

An advance mission of ground troops is scheduled to leave Japan in January, with the core unit expected to start arriving in Iraq in late February.

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