INTERNATIONAL

Japan defers despatch of troops

SINGAPORE Nov. 13. Japan today formally announced its decision not to send troops to Iraq for the present. This follows the latest incident at Nasiriyah in Iraq that claimed the lives of at least 26 persons including 16 Italian military personnel.

Today's announcement is also in line with the indicative comments that the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, made on this issue following the latest general election in his country. Tokyo was planning to send troops to Iraq on "non-combat duties'' there in line with Japan's `pacifist' Constitution and to do so in a show of solidarity with the United States.

The idea was to despatch a small contingent of Japanese troops before the end of this year under a law that was passed by the previous House of Representatives at Mr. Koizumi's direct initiative. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, told the media in Tokyo today that units belonging to the country's Self Defence Forces could, of course, be sent to Iraq "if circumstances permit''. However, "there is no such situation'' there at this time, he said. The message was clear, that Japan was backing away from its intended course, at least for the present.

With the U.S. Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, expected to arrive in Tokyo tomorrow for talks, Mr. Koizumi said, in response to questions, that Japan "will decide (about the troops issue) after closely watching the situation''. Japanese officials underlined too, that there was "no change'' in Tokyo's commitment to the reconstruction of Iraq.