The Swiss-based International Committee of the Red Cross opened on Tuesday its first office here in 60 years, aiming to drum up Japanese support for humanitarian assistance for victims of war around the world.

Established in 1863, the private humanitarian institution that specializes in bringing relief to conflict-hit areas maintains a presence in more than 80 countries, and is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Though also part of this international humanitarian network, the Japanese Red Cross Society focuses on providing medical services, social welfare, and domestic and international disaster relief.

Intent on extending its operations in East Asia, the ICRC also opened an office in Beijing in 2005.

“Our main objective, to begin with, is to highlight more effectively the ICRC’s activities and priorities worldwide in the work that we carry out in conflict zones here in Japan, to explain it better, and to be therefore, better understood,” Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations of the Swiss headquarters, said at a news conference.

For now at least, the three-member Japan office, including representative Yoshinobu Nagamine, will focus on promoting public awareness of humanitarian issues and serving as a liaison between the ICRC’s head office and Japanese agencies such as the Foreign Ministry and Self-Defense Forces, Kraehenbuehl said.

For the past five years, one of the ICRC’s biggest operations has been in Sudan, and Darfur in particular. This year, the organization is also concentrating on Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

The ICRC maintained a delegation in Japan between 1942 to 1949. During the war, the group strove to ensure the proper treatment of Allied POWs. Later, it played a large role in providing assistance to the victims of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Kraehenbuehl said the ICRC has not returned to provide assistance to Japan but rather is seeking Japan’s support and understanding for issues in conflict-hit areas around the world.

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