Tue, Nov 13, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Japan legislators to vote on future of naval mission

AP , TOKYO

A Japanese parliamentary committee yesterday approved the renewal of a limited version of an anti-terror naval mission in the Indian Ocean that was halted earlier in the month by an impasse in the legislature.

The bill, which is expected to be voted on in the full lower house today, limits Japanese ships to refueling and supplying water to ships used in the monitoring and inspection of vessels suspected of having links to terrorism or arms smuggling.

SUPPORTING THE TROOPS

Japanese warships had been refueling vessels in the region since 2001 in support of US-led troops in Afghanistan, but the mission was halted on Nov. 1 when the opposition blocked extension of the operation.

The new mission would broadly be part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom, but would not allow Japanese warships to refuel vessels involved in military attacks or in rescue operations and humanitarian relief that was directly related to Afghanistan.

The lower house parliamentary committee, which is controlled by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, endorsed the new legislation yesterday, overpowering the rejection by the opposition groups.

The bill, however, was intended to be a compromise to show the public that the ruling party could be flexible.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) had opposed the Afghan refueling mission, arguing that it lacked the specific mandate of the UN.

Critics also said that it violated Japan's pacifist Constitution, which forbids the nation from engaging in warfare overseas.

Although the opposition party is opposing the curtailed naval mission as well, the ruling party can force it through the parliament because of its majority in the lower house.

However, the bill still must be debated in the less powerful upper house, controlled by the opposition, meaning that it is likely to be held up for weeks.

"The refueling mission in the Indian Ocean has been a very effective measure," Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told the parliamentary committee.

"I hope from the bottom of my heart that the bill will be passed," he said.

Opposition leaders criticized the committee vote yesterday, saying there had not been enough debate on the new bill.

`FORCING A VOTE'

The ruling party "is forcing a vote now when we still have many important issues to discuss," DPJ deputy chief Kenji Yamaoka said before the vote.

He demanded that parliament postpone any vote and discuss a widening influence-peddling defense scandal first.

Fukuda has argued that pulling out of the mission entirely would leave Japan, which depends on the Middle East for much of its oil, sidelined in the fight against global terrorism.

During its six-year mission, Japan provided about 480,000 kiloliters of fuel to coalition warships in the Indian Ocean, according to the Defense Ministry.

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