Two Air Self-Defense Forces transport planes departed Monday evening for Singapore to stand by for the possible evacuation of Japanese nationals from riot-torn Indonesia.

The two planes were to land in Manila for fueling en route to Singapore. They are expected to arrive at Paya Leban air base in Singapore this evening.

Shortly after the aircraft left the ASDF’s Komaki air base in Aichi Prefecture, one plane returned due to a problem in its navigation system; a backup plane was later sent. Four additional C-130 Hercules planes, each of which can carry up to 92 people, including crew members, will be dispatched this morning, according to the ASDF.

A total of 209 ASDF personnel will be aboard the six planes.

The government also decided to have two of the Maritime Safety Agency’s ships standing by in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, to prepare for the possible evacuation. The two ships, the Mizuho and the Echigo, may be moved to Singapore.

The Mizuho, a 5,300-ton patrol ship, will leave Naha this morning for seas off Jakarta, and the 3,200-ton Echigo, which is now in seas off Noto Peninsula, Ishikawa Prefecture, will sail to Naha on Wednesday and then head for Jakarta. The two ships require five days to sail from Naha to Singapore, according to the agency.

If sent, it would mark the first time that MSA ships have been used to evacuate Japanese nationals from abroad, the spokesman said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka said the Singaporean and Philippine governments have given the vessels permission to use their ports and airports. He said at a press conference Monday afternoon that there were 10,363 Japanese nationals in Indonesia as of 8 a.m. Monday, according to government estimates.

Muraoka said 1,010 Japanese nationals returned from Indonesia Monday aboard three commercial planes chartered by the government for evacuation. The situation in Indonesia may worsen Wednesday, when students plan to hold a large-scale gathering to protest President Suharto’s government.

The decision to send the ASDF planes came in the morning after Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto told some Cabinet ministers that the planes should be sent in case the situation in Indonesia worsens, Muraoka said.

On Hashimoto’s order, Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi requested that Defense Agency chief Fumio Kyuma dispatch C-130 transport planes to Singapore from Komaki. Hashimoto met with Obuchi, Muraoka and Crisis Management Administrator Tadao Ando at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence immediately after returning from a Group of Eight summit in Birmingham, England. The ASDF transport planes will be utilized if large airports are blocked and commercial jets are unavailable.

The government decided on the dispatch of ASDF planes without a Cabinet decision since it is a preparatory action. A Cabinet decision will be necessary if the planes are to move to Indonesia, Muraoka said.

Although deployment of ASDF planes for evacuation purposes was made possible under a 1994 revision of the SDF Law, the provision has yet to be exercised.

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