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Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007

REFUELING SNAFU CLOUDS DEBATE

Lower House takes up new MSDF bill


Staff writer

The Lower House began deliberating a bill Tuesday to enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue refueling naval ships in the Indian Ocean engaged in counterterrorism operations.

The mood was tense amid the outcry over the Defense Ministry's underreporting of fuel that Japan provided to a U.S. warship four years ago.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said during the Lower House plenary session that he has ordered the ministry to take firm action against those who mishandled the fuel supply underreporting and to ensure such mistakes don't recur.

"The fact that Defense Ministry officials failed completely to report the mistake to their superiors while knowing (about the error) not only damages the trust the public has toward the ministry and the paperwork (done by ministry officials), but it is also a problem from the viewpoint of civilian control and is deeply regrettable," Fukuda said.

Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba promised at a news conference to address structural problems in the ministry and urged the public to support the bill, emphasizing that ministry reforms and the refueling operations will go together.

The antiterrorism bill, submitted to the Diet last week, is aimed at replacing the current special law that expires Nov. 1.

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc is desperately seeking a way to extend the MSDF mission, but with the law due to die next week, it is certain the refueling activities face at least a temporary suspension.

Ichiro Ozawa, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, has repeatedly stressed that the MSDF activities supporting the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom-Maritime Interdiction Operation are unconstitutional because they are not officially authorized by the United Nations.

During the Lower House session, however, Fukuda argued that the MSDF activities are constitutional.

"The MSDF's current refueling activities in the Indian Ocean are clearly not a use of force," he said.

"The area in which (the MSDF is operating) is also (limited) to noncombat zones by the framework of the law and therefore (the mission) does not go against (the war-renouncing) Article 9 of the Constitution."



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