Algeria siege fuels Japan calls for greater forces role

Featured Japan - January 23rd, 2013

Japan is seeking to expand the role of its Self-Defense Forces to protect Japanese nationals overseas following the hostage crisis at a gas plant in Algeria which led to the deaths of 37 foreign nationals, including seven Japanese workers.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party called for greater SDF involvement in the security of Japanese nationals abroad and is set to consider revisions to the SDF law.

Under the current legislation, the SDF can only assist Japanese nationals by evacuating them by air or sea during a crisis. SDF aircraft and ships can only be deployed after the government investigates the local environment and assures that troops will not be drawn into conflict.

LDP secretary-general Shigeru Ishiba said Japanese citizens working and living overseas need more security in such incidents. “As they flee for their lives to an airport or to a port, who will protect them?” Ishiba said.

The LDP has already sought changes to the law in 2010 which would enable the SDF to protect Japanese nationals during an evacuation – regardless of the risk of conflict – and allow troops to provide passage on land. Proposed changes would also ease restrictions on the use of weapons, Asahi Shimbun reports.

SDF troops can only use their weapons in self-defense because the use of force is banned under the Constitution.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga confirmed seven Japanese individuals working for Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp. were killed in the siege.

“It is highly regrettable that innocent Japanese working on the front lines should become victims,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a meeting on Monday.