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Japan has begun discussions with governments in the Middle East to coordinate airlifts of humanitarian aid by the Self-Defense Forces to countries neighboring Iraq that expect an influx of refugees, government sources said Saturday.

According to the sources, the airlifts will be carried out under a law that enables the SDF to cooperate in United Nations peacekeeping operations (PKO).

The airlifts would not use the Air Self-Defense Forces’ C130 transport planes, the sources said. Instead, government planes, which are bigger and can fly longer distances, are likely to be used.

Syria is a likely candidate for the aid airlifts because Japan believes it is better to send the aircraft to a country that is neutral, rather than one that is cooperating with the United States in the ongoing attack on Iraq.

If the airlift goes ahead, it would be the first time government planes have been used for activities other than the transport of top government personnel.

Humanitarian rescue operations under the PKO law can be carried out at the request of international organizations, such as the U.N. High Com missioner for Refugees, and the government has already dispatched officials to Geneva, where the UNHCR is headquartered, to discuss the issue.

The government hopes to send assistance in the form of food, tents and blankets, they added.

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