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South Korea, Japan sending troops to Iraq
( 2003-12-01 15:49) (Agencies)

Japan and South Korea voiced determination on Monday to proceed with sending troops to Iraq despite weekend killings of several of their nationals there and popular doubts about taking part in the operation.

Neither of the two North Asian nations plans to send large numbers of soldiers or to take part in combat operations, but their participation marks an important step for the U.S.-led coalition forces in persuading more countries to join.

Two Japanese diplomats were killed in an ambush on Saturday en route to a reconstruction conference in the northern town of Tikrit while two South Korean electrical workers died in a shooting also near the city that is the hometown of deposed president Saddam Hussein.

They were among a dozen people from four U.S.-allied nations killed in weekend attacks, sparking new concern among Washington's allies about the risks of getting involved in Iraq.

"There is no change in our stance," said Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, re-elected last month but who must balance the demands of security ties with the United States with the concerns of voters before Upper House elections in July.

"We must not be daunted by the intention of terrorists to halt the reconstruction effort and cause confusion," he said.

He gave no clue as to when troops might be sent.


South Korea would go ahead with plans to deploy more troops in Iraq despite the shooting of four South Korean civilians on Sunday, Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan told a briefing.

"The issue of the troop deployment plan to Iraq will not be affected and there is no change to our original plan," said Yoon, who is a member of South Korea's National Security Council and attended an emergency session earlier.

He said it was still not clear whether the South Korean victims -- two killed and two wounded -- had been specifically targeted because of Seoul's support for the U.S.-led force in Iraq.

"Despite the tragic incident, we will not yield to violence or killings," the Foreign Ministry said. "We will continue to participate in humanitarian aid to Iraq and reconstruction efforts."

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun condemned the shootings.

"This incident is not terror against the military or a public organization but terror against civilians," Roh told his aides. "This kind of inhumane activity is intolerable."

Many South Koreans disagree with sending more troops, and opposition has grown since the latest spate of attacks.

In Japan, a poll published on Monday showed most Japanese were opposed to sending troops, at least until security improves.

Most of the 1,036 who replied to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper poll did so before news of the diplomats' deaths. Just nine percent of those who responded favored sending troops soon.


Japan has passed a law to allow troops to be sent to Iraq but because of the pacifist constitution they can be sent only to "non-combat zones" for reconstruction and humanitarian work.

The cabinet was expected to approve a basic plan for the dispatch of some 500 Japanese non-combat ground troops -- minus key details such as the scope and timing -- as early as Friday.

The Japanese media were sharply divided over whether Koizumi should proceed with his plans to send troops that were already on hold after a bomb attack killed 19 Italians in southern Iraq last month.

"Why were these people, who loved Iraq and worked without regard for the danger, killed? The incident is all too painful. Whatever the reason, we cannot forgive the perpetrators," the liberal Asahi Shimbun newspaper said in an editorial.

South Korea's Roh has committed to send more troops to Iraq to join 675 medical and engineering troops but faces a tough decision on whether to include combat forces in the larger group.

Prime Minister Goh Kun said last week the contingent could be 3,000 strong and was unlikely to be just non-combat troops.

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