Visiting Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Monday urged Japan to participate in peacekeeping operations in East Timor in addition to providing financial assistance to the area.

During talks with his Japanese counterpart, Makiko Tanaka, Downer said Australia believes international peacekeeping efforts are necessary to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region even after East Timor gains independence, a Foreign Ministry official said.

East Timor, which is currently under a transitional administration overseen by the United Nations, is set to hold a constitutional assembly election this summer, with expectations that it will become independent by 2002.

Downer, who praised the financial contributions Japan has made, said “it would be wonderful” if Japan could send engineers and participate in other forms of logistic support in the peacekeeping activities, according to the official.

Tanaka made no comments on the issue, the official added.

During the meeting, the two ministers agreed to hold a bilateral conference of foreign, trade, agriculture and finance ministers — a gathering which has not been held since 1997 — at an early date, the official said.

Japan and Australia have held 14 ministerial meetings since the conference’s launch in 1972.

Earlier in the day, Downer told reporters in Tokyo he hopes Japan will consider participating more fully in U.N. peacekeeping operations through a review of its war-renouncing Constitution.

“As the second biggest economy in the world, or a major force in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan should in time give thought to participation in peacekeeping operations in a more active way,” Downer said.

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