Japan Mulls Peacekeeper Law in First UN Role, Military Finds Itself Already Violating Legal Strictures

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DESPITE a strong streak of pacifism, Japan's attempt to participate in only the safest of military operations under the United Nations flag has quickly shown its limits.

In both Somalia and Cambodia, and perhaps eventually Bosnia, UN-backed forces face such unexpected tasks and perils that Japan has had difficulty in defining its role within the constraints of a new "peacekeeping operations" (PKO) law.

The law, which allows for the dispatch of Japanese troops to UN missions, was passed last June, some 20 months after Japan was embarrassed for only bankrolling the Gulf war without sending troops. But the law's many conditions, aimed at appeasing domestic opposition, may not be fitting for the UN's new and peculiar missions in a post-cold-war world.

"We are aware that the international situation is very fluid, and the latest developments are calling for new types of peacekeeping operations and a new emphasis on new aspects of such operations," Foreign Ministry spokesman Masamichi Hanabusa says. "We have a certain difficulty in coping with all these latest developments."

In Cambodia, where about 600 Japanese soldiers were sent in September to work with the UN, the Khmer Rouge has become an increasing threat. Other UN forces have already been held captive or attacked by the Khmer Rouge in an apparent breakdown of a UN-brokered cease-fire. Under Japan's new law, Japanese troops should withdraw if no cease-fire exists.

"Strictly speaking, Japan is violating its law in Cambodia. Its troops should leave," says Seizaburo Sato, a political scientist at Keio University in Tokyo.

"But they can't do it while other countries still have their soldiers there," he says. In addition, Japan hopes that its peaceful troop presence in Cambodia will help reduce fears in Asia that it might ever remilitarize.

In Somalia, where at least 18 nations plan to send peacekeepers to join the UN effort, Japan has decided not to participate because of the continuing violence by roving militias. Under the PKO law, Japan can only join UN operations when all parties in a conflict welcome Japanese troops.

But the clear humanitarian nature of the Somalia operation has raised new questions on whether the PKO law should be revised. …