Japan must stay in anti-terrorism fight

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TOKYO, Oct 24 (Reuters) A failure by Japan to extend a naval mission supporting US-led military operations in Afghanistan would send a ''very bad message to the international community and to terrorists'', the U.S. ambassador to Japan said.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is struggling, in the face of a resurgent opposition, to extend a naval mission providing fuel to US and other ships patrolling the Indian Ocean against drug runners, gun smugglers and terrorists.

The mission is almost certain to be halted next week for at least for a couple of months, since its mandate expires on Nov. 1 and opposition parties have vowed to vote down a bill to extend it in parliament's upper house, which they control.

''Terrorism is the bane of our times. We all have a stake in defeating it,'' US ambassador Thomas Schieffer told a news conference today.

''I think that if Japan stopped doing this on a permanent basis, it would be sending a very bad message to the international community and to terrorists because it would be saying that Japan is opting out of the war on terrorism.'' Efforts to enact the law have run into further problems due to scandals involving the defence ministry, including news that a top official broke ethics rules by being entertained by a defence contractor and persistent speculation that fuel provided for the mission was diverted to support US activities in Iraq.

Ruling and opposition parties agreed on Wednesday to summon former vice defence minister Takemasa Moriya, who stepped down in August after more than four years in the key post, to give sworn testimony in parliament about his ties to a defence contractor as well as the refuelling mission.

The Defence Ministry has admitted that officials kept quiet about an error in reports about the amount of fuel provided by Japan for the maritime operations.

Schieffer repeated U.S. assurances that the fuel had not been used for purposes other than supporting its Afghan operations, as authorised by the law, and accused the opposition of making the naval mission a domestic political football.

''We have traced the fuel and we believe we have shown that the fuel was not used in Iraq,'' he said, adding that it was troubling that America's word on the matter was doubted.

''No matter what we are able to provide, there are some people that are not going to be satisfied because for political reasons they would like to see this operation cease.'' The leader of the main opposition party, the Democratic Party's Ichiro Ozawa, has rebuffed calls from Schieffer and Fukuda to compromise on the naval mission, which he says lacks a United Nations mandate. He has urged an early election for parliament's lower house in hopes of taking power.

The ruling coalition can override an upper house rejection of the bill with its two-thirds majority in the lower chamber, but it appears reluctant to do so without a rise in public support for the naval mission -- now at around 48 per cent, according to a media survey published this week.


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