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British forces will provide security for the Ground Self-Defense Force troops in Samawah, southern Iraq, after the Dutch forces currently protecting them withdraw in March, visiting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Thursday.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi quoted Straw as saying during their meeting that his country would “provide all-out cooperation to secure the safety of the” Self-Defense Forces.

“I would like to work closely” with Britain, Koizumi said to reporters after the meeting.

Although the GSDF troops are armed, including being equipped with antitank rockets and recoilless rifles, their use of arms is limited to self-defense, in line with the Constitution. The SDF contingent, which has been to Samawah on a humanitarian and reconstruction mission, has been relying on the Dutch troops for security.

“We are well aware of Japan’s concerns regarding the safety of the SDF,” Straw was quoted as saying by a Japanese official who briefed reporters. “As the nation responsible for security in southeast Iraq, we are aware of our responsibilities after the withdrawal of Dutch troops.”

There was no discussion of specific steps Britain might take, the official said.

Straw also hinted that Japan should hike its official development assistance, despite its staggering fiscal deficit, if it wants to be a permanent member of the UNSC.

“As for U.N. Security Council reform, ODA is relevant in gaining support from developing countries,” said Straw, expressing hope that Japan’s aid would increase in the future, according to the Japanese official.

Britain has expressed support for Japan’s efforts to gain a permanent seat on the Security Council.

Iraq kidnapping denied

Staff report

The Foreign Ministry denied media reports Thursday that a Japanese engineer had been kidnapped in Iraq, saying the company at which the alleged victim worked reportedly has no Japanese employees.

“When we called the company in question, we were told it does not employ any Japanese,” ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima told a regular news conference.

Earlier in the day, the Associated Press reported that gunmen kidnapped a Japanese engineer who worked at a power station in central Iraq on Wednesday.

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