Japan is considering airlifting relief materials and providing medical services in case a U.S.-led war in Iraq creates a wave of refugees, government officials said Wednesday.

The assistance is being considered as part of international humanitarian activities under the country’s legislation designed for U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Japan is limiting its role to providing aid partly because of the region’s sensitivity to foreign troops, the officials said.

Consent from recipient countries is required for the dispatch of Japanese troops under the peacekeeping operations law, but the government will consider sending troops after receiving a request from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the officials said.

Under the plan, Japan will send C-130 transport aircraft to deliver relief materials to countries accepting refugees from Iraq.

Medical personnel of the Self-Defense Forces will be sent in to help any refugees with sanitation and water supply, the officials said.

The U.N. refugee agency predicts that hundreds of thousands of people could be displaced in a possible war in Iraq, most of them being Shiite Muslims. Half are expected to flee to Iran, while the rest would stream into Turkey, Syria and other neighboring countries, the agency said.

Japan conducted its first relief activities under the humanitarian provision of the peacekeeping operations legislation in 1994 when it provided relief material to Rwandan refugees. It has since provided aid to refugees in East Timor and Afghanistan.

The government is also considering new legislation to enable the SDF to join in reconstruction efforts in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The scope of an SDF mission in Iraq would include transportation, communications and materials supply, government officials say.

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