Japan mulls Afghan role after dropping naval mission: report

TOKYO, Sept 19, 2009 (AFP) - The Japanese government is considering a new role in Afghanistan, after dropping a naval refuelling mission in the Indian Ocean, a media report said Saturday.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is keen to offer agricultural aid and other assistance aimed at stabilising the economic and social situation in the violence-torn nation, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.

Hatoyama took office on Wednesday after his centre-left Democratic Party of Japan scored a massive election victory, ousting the conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

Hatoyama, who formed a coalition with two smaller parties, campaigned on a promise of sweeping change, including stopping Japan's Indian Ocean mission providing fuel to US-led forces operating in Afghanistan.

Washington has asked Japan to propose alternatives to the mission by November, when President Barack Obama visits Japan, the Yomiuri said, citing unnamed sources.

Tokyo is mulling non-military assistance, the newspaper said.

Hatoyama and other senior DPJ members have expressed their will to support efforts by the international community to help Afghanistan, but have not publicly discussed specifics.

The leader of the Social Democratic Party, the DPJ's coalition partner which has a long-standing objections to the mission, said Saturday Japan should help Afghanistan's nation-building efforts.

"Police, schools, hospitals... Japan should demonstrate its full ability in offering help in peaceful areas... nation-building and social areas," said Mizuho Fukushima, who also serves as consumer affairs minister in the Hatoyama government.

Visiting US envoy Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary for East Asia and Pacific affairs, told the Asahi Shimbun that the Obama government would welcome Japanese aid for Afghanistan in whatever form.

The refuelling mission was controversial in Japan and has long been opposed by the DPJ, which said Japan should not take part in "America's war."

Conservatives and experts however have said it was a small price to ensure the Japan-US alliance.

The mission worried pacifists as the nation's constitution limits the use of military force to self defense.

Some 100,000 US and NATO-led forces are in Afghanistan helping the government battle the Taliban, whose hardline regime was overthrown in a US-backed invasion in late 2001.

Source: AFP

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