LDP wants government in charge of retrieving troops’ bodies

JIJI, Kyodo

A panel belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has mapped out an action plan on the retrieval of remains of Japanese soldiers who died overseas in the last war, seeking legislation to oblige the government to do the work.

The legislation, which will be submitted to the ongoing ordinary Diet session, will define the work as a duty of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare when the Ministry of Welfare and Labor Establishment Act is revised. The retrieval of soldiers’ remains is now handled as unsettled business of the now-defunct Imperial Japanese Army.

The legislation will also mandate cooperation by the Foreign and Defense ministries on the remains recovery.

Based on a Cabinet approval in 1952, the welfare ministry is mainly in charge of recovering the remains, with support from the Foreign and Defense ministries. However, the lack of firm legal ground has snarled the process in red tape.

Released Monday, the action plan by the LDP’s special committee on the retrieval of the remains sets a 10-year intensive period through fiscal 2024 for the recovery work.

The plan calls for dispatching officials in charge of information-gathering to Japanese embassies and other offices abroad so that Japan can finish studying relevant documents in national archives in other countries by fiscal 2016.

It also calls on Japan to conclude treaties with other nations as soon as possible to make it easier to access official documents, carry out excavations and obtain permission to repatriate any discovered remains.

According to the health ministry, some 2.4 million Japanese died in World War II, and the remains of about 1.27 million of them have been collected. Excluding those who died in what is now North Korea, which has no diplomatic relations with Japan, and those who died at sea, the remains of some 600,000 service members can still be recovered, the ministry says.

The LDP committee hopes to accelerate the remains retrieval process as people who might know where Japanese soldiers are buried are aging and related documents may be destroyed.

The Japan Youth Memorial Association, a nonprofit organization supporting the retrieval process, has called for the enactment of a new law to speed things up, saying it usually takes two years for the government to take action after receiving new information about the remains of the war dead.

In April 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Iwojima Battle site and pledged to speed up the recovery of the remains.