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The Cabinet adopted a plan Friday to reorganize the government office tasked with expediting the disposal of chemical weapons left behind in China by the Japanese military at the end of the war.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka said at a news conference that the government will increase the number of officials to deal with the issue of disposing of some 700,000 poison-gas shells and make a budget request for fiscal 2000 to carry out the project.

“The government has been sincerely working on the issue in line with the spirit of the Japan-China joint declaration and the Japan-China peace and friendship treaty, and has often sent research missions to China,” Nonaka said. “With the adoption of the plan by the Cabinet, the government will launch the actual work of disposing of chemical weapons.”

The issue has been studied by a liaison conference of the ministries and agencies involved since the conference’s establishment in August 1997.

The conference consists of bureau chiefs from the Cabinet Councilor’s Office on External Affairs, the Foreign, Finance, Health and Welfare, and International Trade and Industry ministries, as well as the Defense, Science and Technology, and Environment agencies.

With Friday’s decision, the conference’s secretariat will be reorganized from a current staff of nine to 20, and until the government’s ministries and agencies are reorganized in January 2001, the Prime Minister’s Office will be fully responsible for carrying out the weapons disposal.

The Prime Minister’s Office will also make the budget request for the next year to carry out the project, the government officials said.

Although the costs for the cleanup have yet to be calculated, it is estimated to run around 200 billion yen to 300 billion yen, the officials said.

The government is currently studying technology to dispose of the weapons, and hopes to decide how it will carry out the project by summer, they added.

The Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into effect in April 1997, prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, and stipulates that all such arms in the world be eliminated within 10 years.

In accordance with the convention, the Japanese government is obliged to dispose of the weapons by April 2007.

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