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Coalition prods Japan to stay in ‘war on terror’

Coalition countries involved in the US-led "war on terror" urged Japan yesterday to continue its naval support mission which is set to be halted this week due to opposition objections.

Eager to show its continuing role in the "war on terror," Japan said it was considering boosting economic aid to Pakistan, a frontline ally for the US in its military operations in Afghanistan.

The refuelling mission in the Indian Ocean is set to end at midnight today after Japanese opposition parties, which control the upper house of parliament, refused to back a government-sponsored bill to extend it.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was due to meet again Friday with Ichiro Ozawa, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, after they failed to narrow their differences on the naval mission when then met on Tuesday.

US ambassador Thomas Schieffer led diplomats from other coalition countries, including Afghanistan, Britain and Pakistan, in a meeting at the Canadian embassy with about 70 ruling and opposition members of the parliament, or Diet.

"I hope that after whatever debate goes on in the Diet that Mr. Ozawa will accept the fact that this is an international undertaking and I hope that he will support it in the end," Schieffer told reporters.

"We tried to answer whatever questions we could and provide as much information as we could, to emphasise how important Japan's contribution is to what we are doing in that part of the world," he said.

Fukuda's predecessor Shinzo Abe abruptly resigned last month, in part due to his failure to extend the mission, which started shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.

Fukuda argues that Japan, which has been officially pacifist since its defeat in World War II, must play a greater role in global security as it is the world's second largest economy.

"The prime minister has a sense of crisis about Japan's position in the international community and I believe Mr. Ozawa can relate to it," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, the top government spokesman.

But the US Defence Department said Tuesday that the coalition would be able to find alternative sources of fuel if Japan suspends its support.

"We still hope that they will continue to support the mission through their refuelling efforts," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

"But if they ultimately choose not to, we will certainly come up with alternative means of making sure that our men and women have the fuel they need to go about their missions," he said.

Pakistan, a US ally despite domestic opposition, has enjoyed free water and oil for its ships from Japan in return for its membership of the coalition.

Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura has proposed discussions on an increase in the aid given to Pakistan "in the hope that the country will develop as a modern Islamic nation," a foreign ministry official said.

But the official said: "It is not that we would expand aid just because we are ending the refuelling activities."

Komura said Japan must not reduce its presence in the international fight against terrorism.

"It (the end of the refuelling mission) can be taken to mean that Japan has turned passive in the fight against terror," Komura told a special anti-terrorism committee in the lower house.

"It is inevitable to give an impact on how other countries view Japan," he said.

The Japanese rift comes amid growing opposition to the "war on terror" across countries that are part of the coalition battling an insurgency in Afghanistan waged by remnants of the hardline Taliban regime ousted in 2001.

Japan stopped all aid for both India and Pakistan after their nuclear tests in 1998 but resumed it after the launch of the "war on terror."