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Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009

Ruling bloc sets stage for antipiracy mission

Staff writer

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc said Tuesday it will work to send Maritime Self-Defense ships to take part in antipiracy efforts off Somalia under a maritime police action provision of the Self-Defense Forces law.

The coalition will officially adopt an outline for the mission Thursday after gaining its parties' nod.

Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has been eager to send MSDF warships, has indicated he wants to move forward with the dispatch as soon as the ruling bloc agrees. The defense minister could order the MSDF to prepare for the mission before the end of the month.

However, there is no legal framework for the SDF to join international efforts against piracy. According to former Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, who cochairs the ruling bloc's project team on piracy, the LDP and New Komeito plan to submit a bill in early March to officially authorize the MSDF to be deployed for antipiracy operations.

"The main subject is the (Japan Coast Guard), but the MSDF will be dispatched because it is currently difficult for the coast guard to take (antipiracy) measures in the Somalia coast area," Nakatani said. "But criminal justice and police procedures will be left up to the coast guard."

According to the draft outline for the mission, considered a temporary measure until the new law is enacted, the MSDF task force will be restricted to protecting the lives of Japanese people and assets at sea, and unless otherwise authorized will not be allowed to protect ships outside these criteria that come under attack.

Coast guardsmen would be aboard the MSDF ships to perform criminal justice procedures, including arrests, questioning and evidence collection, in the event pirates are encountered, lawmakers said.

The Defense Ministry would also be tasked with coming up with rules of engagement in coordination with other ministries and agencies.

"Regarding the use of weapons, the Defense Ministry should come up with standards after discussing the issue with related ministries," Nakatani said. "The project team believes the use of weapons should be in accordance with current law, but we are leaving it up to the Defense Ministry, if it deploys the SDF, to establish the standards."

Nakatani referred to Article 7 of the Police Execution of Duties Law, which limits the use of arms only to incidents deemed necessary, including self-defense or protection of others, or in making arrests or preventing flights from justice.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said if the antipiracy bill is submitted, the government will strive to have it approved during the current Diet session.

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The Japan Times

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