- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 25, 2001

TOKYO Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi defended the shooting of a suspected North Korean spy ship and said yesterday that the incident underlined the need to bolster national security.
An unidentified fishing boat sank late Saturday after trading machine-gun fire with coast guard vessels after a six-hour chase that began when it ignored orders to stop for inspection off Japan's coast, Japanese officials said.
Two bodies from its estimated 15 crew members were recovered, with the rest still missing yesterday. Three Japanese coast guard sailors were slightly injured in the firefight.
Mr. Koizumi praised the coast guard for tracking and hunting down the mysterious ship late Saturday night, though he said the chase took too long. He suggested that laws restricting Japan's military hindered the coast guard from taking action earlier and limited coordination with other military branches, such as the navy.
"We should examine what we need to do legally and realistically," Mr. Koizumi said, adding that equipment upgrades also should be considered. "The ship had pretty high strike capabilities and was heavily armed."
Japan's pacifist, postwar constitution limits the use of force by the military and coast guard to self-defense and keeps troops largely bound to Japanese territory.
Mr. Koizumi has been pushing strongly for a wider role for the military, although he has sidestepped the largely taboo issue of revising the constitution.
Japanese Coast Guard officials released night-vision video footage that seemed to depict the unidentified ship firing a rocket at Japanese gunboats. They said one Japanese ship was hit by gunfire more than 100 times in the encounter.
"We fired shots in legitimate self-defense, and I think we took appropriate actions," said Tetsuo Yokoyama, a regional Coast Guard operations chief.
Masao Kurusu, captain of the Coast Guard cutter Amami, said the unidentified trawler opened fire first, after the Amami and two other Japanese ships surrounded it.
Japanese ships began chasing the trawler when it ignored orders to stop for inspection. It fled toward China and eventually sank in the East China Sea just outside Chinese territorial waters.
The boat foundered within minutes of the Japanese returning fire. It was unclear whether it was sunk by gunfire or scuttled by its crew, though a Japanese sailor reportedly watched through a night-vision lens as the boat's crewmen set off an explosive device on board.
Beijing said it was "concerned" about Japan's use of military force off its coast and said it would petition Tokyo for more information about the incident.
Japanese defense officials and analysts said the boat closely resembled two suspected North Korean spy ships detected off the western coast of Japan in March 1999. Those ships escaped.
A life jacket and a candy bag found on the bodies of the two recovered victims had Korean writing on them, but it was unclear whether they were manufactured in communist North Korea or democratic South Korea.
Mr. Koizumi and other Cabinet officials have not commented on the identity of the boat. State-run media in North Korea have not reported on the incident.
Japan and North Korea, which do not have diplomatic ties, are divided by history and ideology. Japan took over the Korean Peninsula in 1910 and ruled it as a colony until 1945. North Korea's official media regularly lambaste Tokyo for harboring what they call militaristic ambitions.

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