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Three Air Self-Defense Force transport planes sent to Thailand for the possible evacuation of Japanese nationals from Cambodia arrived at Naha airport in Okinawa Prefecture on late July 17 without evacuees.

Kaoru Yosano, deputy chief Cabinet secretary, told an earlier news conference that all three C-130 Hercules planes had left the naval base in U-Taphao, about 175 km southeast of Bangkok. Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto had ordered the recall late July 16.

“We think that the situation in Cambodia is returning to normal in military, security and political aspects, and it is believed that Japanese who were in Cambodia and hoped to return to Japan have already left the country safely,” said Yosano, who appeared at the news conference in place of Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiroku Kajiyama. Yosano added that 267 Japanese were still in Cambodia as of July 16, compared with approximately 570 when fighting broke out July 5 between rival Cambodian factions.

Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party, a small ally of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, protested on July 17 over the dispatch of the ASDF aircraft to Thailand. The government damaged the trust between the ruling parties by sending the planes without consulting the SDP, the party said. SDP policy chief Kazuo Oikawa called on the LDP to explain the legal grounds for dispatching the ASDF aircraft and the procedural steps taken by Hashimoto.

The transport planes flew July 19 from Okinawa to U-Taphao, where they sat on the tarmac awaiting orders to fly to Phnom Penh. It was the first time Japan has sent military planes abroad to evacuate its nationals since such deployments were made possible under a 1994 revision of the Self-Defense Forces Law.

Still, the government was criticized by Japanese in Cambodia, who said the dispatch of military planes came too late. Even the order to withdraw the planes was moot; Phnom Penh had said evacuation flights were unnecessary and would not be permitted.

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