• Kyodo

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Japan will expand its refueling operations in the Arabian Sea in early March to include naval vessels from eight more countries, Japanese sources said Wednesday.

The countries — Canada, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Spain — are among members of the U.S.-led coalition engaged in the antiterrorism campaign, the sources said.

Under the Antiterrorism Special Measures Law enacted in October 2001, the Maritime Self-Defense Force is currently refueling U.S. and British warships engaged in operations in the Arabian Sea to hunt down al-Qaeda and Taliban members fleeing Afghanistan.

With the growing possibility of a war with Iraq, the United States and Britain are building up their naval strength in the Persian Gulf while leaving antiterrorism maritime patrols in the Arabian Sea to other coalition members.

Providing oil to patrol ships from the eight countries would help U.S. and British vessels focus on a war with Iraq.

Because the special antiterrorism law limits Japan’s support to operations aimed at reducing threats resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the government will exchange documents with the eight countries stipulating that oil provided by Japan should not be used for an attack on Iraq, the sources said.

Japan also plans to exclude the northern part of the Persian Gulf from areas available for its refueling operations to prevent Japanese ships from being involved in fighting in the event of an attack on Iraq, they said.

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