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Saturday, March 4, 2006

KOIZUMI WANTS SQUEAKY CLEAN AGENCY

Nukaga's head back on chopping block


Staff writer

Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga was grim-faced Feb. 24 as he told an audience of some 600 senior Self-Defense Forces officers and Defense Agency officials to clean up their organizations.

Nukaga called the sudden assembly after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reprimanded him earlier in the day for the string of scandals involving SDF and Defense Agency personnel.

Nukaga is backed against the wall -- again.

He was forced to resign as state minister twice in the past due to scandal -- once as minister of economic and fiscal policy, and in 1998 as Defense Agency chief after corruption was uncovered in the equipment procurement department.

"A series of incidents have happened in succession, betraying the trust of the public," he said in his address at Defense Agency headquarters in Tokyo's Ichigaya district.

He told the audience Koizumi had demanded he tighten discipline in the SDF and the agency.

"I believe the work of the Defense Agency and the SDF can only stand on (this) trust," Nukaga said.

Among the most recent revelations are charges of bid-rigging in the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, an arm of the Defense Agency. Three people, including the former No. 3 head of the facilities agency, have been charged with rigging bids for public works projects.

The SDF has also been faced with leaks of confidential data, including a case caused by a virus in a personal computer owned by a Maritime Self-Defense Force member.

In addition, a 38-year-old Ground Self-Defense Force soldier based in Chiba Prefecture was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting late last month. The man, who was on the reserve list for the latest deployment to Iraq, said he got himself arrested because his family did not want him to go on the mission.

The bad publicity has all but put the kibosh on the move by Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party to elevate the agency to a ministry.

"No one who was unwilling to be dispatched to Iraq should have been chosen," Koizumi was quoted by a Defense Agency official as telling Nukaga in the February meeting, referring to the shoplifting incident.

The GSDF will only send volunteers to Iraq because if anyone unwilling to participate were to be a casualty, there could be serious political repercussions. The 600 GSDF troops now in southern Iraq are expected to be withdrawn this spring, and Koizumi is anxious to get them home safe. So far, there have been no casualties.

The official in the Koizumi-Nukaga meeting said the agency is looking into whether the GSDF member's motive for the shoplifting is true.

Tokyo plans to start withdrawing troops later this month, according to government sources. It wants to time the pullout with the withdrawal of the British and Australian troops from Samawah, where they provide security for the GSDF unit.

Toshiyuki Shikata, a former commanding general of the GSDF Northern Army and now a Teikyo University professor, said this is good time for Nukaga to order SDF brass to tighten discipline to regain the public's trust.

"Generally speaking, a withdrawal is the most dangerous time for troops," Shikata said, noting that should the pullout encounter problems, the opposition parties would go after the ruling bloc and the military.

During a pullout, remaining troops could be more vulnerable to attack, he reckoned.

The area around Samawah, where the GSDF has been working on reconstruction projects, has been relatively stable and no SDF member has been killed or wounded.

If there were to be casualties during the withdrawal, it would be a severe blow to Koizumi, one of U.S. President George W. Bush's closest allies in supporting the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"The (GSDF) will have to be on higher alert than ever," Shikata said.



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