(AP) - The first Japanese ground troops since World War II to report overseas for
duty landed Sept. 20 in Cambodia-proud but feeling the burden of their mission.
As military observers, they are to help disarm and demobilize Cambodia's 170,000
troops, establish and monitor border checkpoints, and monitor the fragile cease-fire.
In addition to helping leave Cambodia with a stable, democratic government, the Japanese
troops have another mission-to convince a divided homeland that Japan was right to
send troops abroad.
"I feel a little bit of pressure," said Lt. Col. Yusuke Fukui, the most
senior of the eight military observers to arrive. "But that pressure will be
changed into pride. We will be able accomplish our mission."
The Japanese government recently passed a law to permit Japanese troops to be deployed
overseas, despite objections from opposition parties that this would violate Japan's
constitutional provision against using force to settle international disputes.
Parliament calmed much of the opposition by agreeing to limit the troops duties mainly
to rear-echelon work such as construction.
That will be the main duty of the 600 Japanese soldiers who, along with 75 police,
are to arrive through October for the mission. They are to repair bridges and roads
damaged during the past 13 years of civil war.
U.N. peacekeepers have yet to decide where the Japanese observers will be posted,
but the other 470 or so U.N. military observers are stationed throughout the country-many
in areas where cease-fire violations are frequent.
Fukui said he had been told the skirmishes that occur almost daily between government
and Khmer Rouge troops do not constitute cease-fire violations.
Japan's law requires that a cease-fire be in place before its troops can be dispatched.
When opposition parties pointed out that the Khmer Rouge was refusing to cooperate
with the operation and had violated the peace accord, the Japanese government said
it could not wait for the guerrilla group to come around before sending troops, as
that would be giving the Khmer Rouge veto power.
The guerrilla group, in effect, has had such power for months. Its refusal to begin
disarming in June has put much of the operation on hold.
Fukui and other military observers brushed all this aside. In their beige and green
uniforms and shiny black shoes, they were clearly glad to have arrived.
The hot weather and possibility that they could be posted in the provinces without
air conditioning or refrigerators did not seem to dampen their spirits.
"We have the patience to put up with any difficulty," Fukui said. "We
are very proud to work with many countries for international peace."
Other Asian countries, which suffered at the hands of Japanese troops during World
War II, have expressed fears that sending troops abroad to such missions could lead
to a military resurgence in Japan.
But Fukui said the Japanese troops were not here to take over but to learn from all
the countries that have been contributing to peacekeeping missions for years.
"These countries know how to accomplish these missions so we have to learn from
them," he said.
In addition to Fukui, the military observers are Maj. Tomoki Abe, Capt. Tobbinori
Inoue, Capt. Tadayoshi Kono, Capt. Katsumiro Shimizu, Maj. Muneyuki Tokita, Lt. Col.
Masaki Yokoyama and Maj. Yoshito Yonemitsu.
"This is the first time Japan is joining a U.N. peacekeeping operation,"
Tokita said, with a broad smile. "It is my great pride to be part of it."