Japan Diet committee OKs new naval bill
Tokyo, November 12, 2007 (AP): A Japanese parliamentary committee on Monday approved renewing a limited version of a naval mission in the Indian Ocean that had directly aided the U.S. effort in Afghanistan but was halted by an impasse in the legislature.
The bill, which is expected to be voted on in the full lower house on Tuesday, limits Japanese ships to refueling and supplying water to ships used in the monitoring and inspection of vessels suspected of links to terrorism or arms smuggling.
Japanese warships had been refueling vessels in the region since 2001 in support of U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, but the mission was halted on Nov. 1 when the opposition blocked the operation's extension.
The new mission would broadly be part of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom, but would not allow Japanese warships to refuel vessels involved in military attacks or in rescue operations and humanitarian relief directly related to Afghanistan.
The opposition Democratic Party of Japan had opposed the Afghan refueling mission, arguing that it lacked the specific mandate of the United Nations. Critics also said it violated Japan's pacifist Constitution, which prohibits the nation from engaging in warfare overseas.
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has argued that pulling out of the mission entirely would leave Japan sidelined in the fight against global terrorism.
The lower house parliamentary committee, which is controlled by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, endorsed the new legislation Monday, overpowering the rejection by the opposition groups. But the bill was intended as a compromise to show the public that the ruling party is flexible.
Although the opposition party is against the curtailed naval mission, 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 likely will be held up for weeks.
"The refueling mission in the Indian Ocean has been a very effective measure," Fukuda told the parliamentary committee. "I hope from the bottom of my heart that the bill will be passed."
Opposition leaders criticized the committee vote Monday, saying there has not been enough debate on the new bill.
The ruling party "is forcing a vote now when we still have many important issues to discuss," DPJ deputy chief Kenji Yamaoka before the vote, demanding parliament postpone any vote and discuss a widening influence-peddling defense scandal first.
During its six-year mission, Japan provided about 126 million gallons of fuel to coalition warships in the Indian Ocean, including those from the U.S., Britain and Pakistan, according to the Defense Ministry.