Thu, Oct 18, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Japan may dilute support mission in Afghanistan

TRICKLE AWAY: A bill would authorize support only for forces directly involved in the 'war on terror' for one year,but the opposition may seek further restrictions

AFP , TOKYO

The Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) approved a bill yesterday to scale back support for US-led forces in Afghanistan, but the move was unlikely to placate the opposition, which wants to end the mission entirely.

Japanese vessels have refueled coalition aircraft and ships under a law, which expires on Nov. 1, allowing the officially pacifist country to take part in the "war on terror."

The ruling LDP approved a new bill to continue the mission, a party official said. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's Cabinet was due to give its formal backing later in the day to send the bill to parliament.

In a compromise, the new bill would allow Japan to give oil and water only to coalition forces directly involved in the "war on terror." It follows accusations, denied by Tokyo and Washington, that Japanese fuel was diverted to US operations in Iraq.

The new bill also authorizes the mission for only one year instead of two years, as originally planned.

But the opposition, which won control of parliament's less-powerful upper house in July, says that Japan should not be involved in "American wars."

Conservative Shinzo Abe resigned as prime minister last month, citing his failure to extend the mission. The opposition has also pledged to scuttle Fukuda's policy agenda until he calls early general elections.

The opposition has not officially rejected the compromise bill, saying it wants to debate the issue once the Cabinet approves it.

But Kenji Yamaoka, a senior lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party, attacked the new bill for eliminating a requirement that parliament approve the dispatch of every additional ship to the Indian Ocean.

"They eliminated the parliamentary approval because they don't want trouble in the upper house," Yamaoka told reporters. "It shows extreme ignorance about parliamentary debate."

The US has warned that relations would suffer with Japan unless its close ally renews the mission.

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