In a bid to raise its low profile in international peacekeeping efforts, Japan is embarking on a significant financial-assistance program for domestic nongovernmental organizations participating in overseas conflict-prevention activities.

The Foreign Ministry will seek about 100 million yen for the new program in its fiscal 2002 budgetary request, which will be submitted to the Finance Ministry later this week, ministry sources said Monday.

The new program is expected to help increase the number of Japanese NGO members and other private citizens engaged in overseas conflict-prevention activities by easing their financial burden.

“We believe that there are many Japanese NGO members and other private citizens who wish to participate in conflict-prevention activities abroad but who cannot do so because of financial problems,” one ministry source said.

The 100 million yen request would come from a newly created 2 trillion yen special quota for seven policy priority areas of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s government, the sources said. The seven priority areas are: information technology, the environment, education, science and technology, stemming the declining birth-rate and aging of society, the rebirth of cities and the revitalization of rural areas.

The government decided earlier this month to set up the 2 trillion yen special quota in compiling the fiscal 2002 budget plan while cutting back on overall expenditures by 5 trillion yen through such means as a 10 percent cut in official development assistance and public works projects.

The sources said that the Foreign Ministry’s 100 million yen budgetary request for the conflict-prevention program will be made as part of the education area under the 2 trillion yen special budget quota.

The sources said the ministry believes that the new program for NGO members and other private citizens will have the effect of educating them through exchanges with their more experienced foreign counterparts and developing private-sector Japanese human resources in the area of conflict prevention.

The sources said that NGOs are expected to play a role different from those played by governments and international organizations, such as the United Nations.

But although Japanese NGOs have been relatively active in participating in development assistance and disaster-relief activities abroad, they have not been so active in conflict-prevention. Their experience and knowhow in the area lags behind that of major foreign NGOs, the sources said.

Under the 100 million yen program, some 30 NGO members and other private citizens will be dispatched to 10 locations in foreign countries, the sources said. An estimated 64.5 million yen in travel and living costs for them will be completely shouldered by the government.

Of the 100 million yen budget to be requested for the program, the remaining 35.5 million yen will be used for such purposes as financing conflict-prevention projects conducted jointly by Japanese and foreign NGOs in strife-torn countries, the sources said.

The financial assistance program for NGOs and other private citizens taking part in overseas conflict-prevention activities is also aimed at boosting Japan’s low profile in international peacekeeping efforts, the sources said.

In June 1992, the Diet enacted a landmark bill to enable Self-Defense Forces personnel to be dispatched overseas on United Nations-sponsored peacekeeping missions.

The bill’s enactment came amid growing criticisms both at home and abroad that the country was not making enough personnel contributions to such missions, even in the post-Cold War era.

Critics contended at the time that Japan was making only financial contributions to international peacekeeping efforts, as it did during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which was triggered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Japan’s war-renouncing postwar Constitution bars the country from engaging in collective defense, and SDF participation in U.N. peacekeeping missions is strictly limited under the so-called five principles established when the 1992 law was put into place.

Two of the principles call for the existence of a ceasefire among warring parties and allow SDF personnel participating in U.N. missions to use firearms only in self-defense, although the government and ruling coalition are now seeking to revise the principles as early as this autumn.

Also under the 1992 law, SDF personnel are not allowed to participate in a U.N. peacekeeping force, or PKF, to monitor a ceasefire and collect weapons from warring factions, although the government and the ruling coalition are now seeking to amend the law as early as this autumn so that SDF personnel can join such operations.

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