- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

SAMAWAH, Iraq — Ten Japanese soldiers, vastly outnumbered by reporters, television camera crews and photographers, examined a muddy field as a potential campsite yesterday before returning to the nearby Dutch garrison to plan the next move.

The site survey came amid warnings of a potential terrorist plot against Japan’s first mission in a combat zone since the end of World War II.

The soldiers spent about 20 minutes examining the site before returning to the Dutch garrison at Camp Smitty where the 30-member Japanese contingent temporarily is based.

A total of 1,000 Japanese troops will be in Iraq when the deployment is complete.

The noncombat force, made up of an engineering and water-purification unit, will help provide clean drinking water, rebuild schools and offer medical care in Samawah and surrounding areas, about 140 miles south of Baghdad.

The troops arrived in southern Iraq late Monday overland from Kuwait.

Japan’s defense chief Shigeru Ishiba told reporters in Tokyo yesterday that the government was investigating reports of a potential terrorist plot against the troops, based on unspecified information. He did not elaborate.

“We don’t have the details, but such information should be investigated over there,” Mr. Ishiba was quoted as saying by a Defense Agency spokesman.

“It is the advance team’s mission to assess the local security situation,” he said of the first mission to be deployed in a war zone in more than half a century.

The deployment has prompted widespread opposition in Japan, with polls indicating a majority of the public believes the mission is too dangerous, or oppose it because they believe it violates this country’s postwar pacifist constitution.

Earlier yesterday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said the government was resolute in going through with its deployment.

“We have responsibilities as a member of the international community. Without fulfilling those responsibilities, our country cannot exist,” he said.

Always wary of Japan’s military, China expressed concern over the dispatch of Japanese troops and urged Tokyo to ensure its actions don’t create distrust in Asia.

China was brutally occupied by Japanese troops in World War II.

“We express our concern over this,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan at a news briefing.

He called on Japan to abide by its policy of using its military only in self-defense, saying, “Only this conforms with world peace and stability in the region.”

On arrival in Samawah on Monday, the commander of the advance party, Col. Masahisa Sato, said his objective was to “collect information about the security relating to our activities” and to coordinate with humanitarian organizations active in the Samawah area.

Tokyo spent a lot of money supporting the 1991 Persian Gulf war, but sent no troops, Afterward, Japan was criticized at home and abroad for relying on “checkbook diplomacy.”

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