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Japan’s Foreign Ministry this week denied a news report published last month that Japanese Self-Defense Forces aircraft soon might be readied to help evacuate Japanese in Iraq in case of war there.

SDF spokesman Manabu Shimamoto also said no such arrangements are being made.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported last month that Japan’s government was considering sending an Air Self-Defense Force B-747 and a C-130 transport plane to evacuate Japanese from Iraq and surrounding countries should Iraq be attacked.

“No consideration has been made at this time,” Shimamoto said, adding that sending Japanese aircraft into war zones must be discussed with Japan’s foreign minister. The country’s constitution prohibits any but defensive military action.

But were an SDF aircraft to be sent, Shimamoto said, a B-747 such as that used by the nation’s prime minister could be used. The SDF spokesman said transport ships and transport planes with helicopters aboard also could be dispatched.

“Safety of transportation must be assured in order to evacuate people in the case of war in Iraq,” he said, “since it could mean going into a war front.”

The Foreign Ministry said Monday just 15 Japanese citizens — mostly United Nations workers and consular officials — are known to be living now in Baghdad; none are thought to be in outlying areas of Iraq.

Japan has recommended its citizens evacuate Iraq and avoid travel there, “since the U.S. forces’ attack in 1998,” an official in the Foreign Ministry Consular and Migration Affairs Department said Monday.

As of October 2000, 161 Japanese lived in neighboring Kuwait; as of May, 553 lived in Israel.

A Foreign Ministry official said Japanese citizens who wish to leave Iraq and surrounding countries must make their own arrangements to do so.

“If they evacuate they will have to use private airlines at their own expense,” she said. “Where they evacuate is up to the decision of individuals.”

SDF aircraft, however, could be pressed into service at some point, Shimamoto indicated, especially should commercial flights become unavailable.

Japan learned “a bitter lesson,” the Yomiuri quoted a Foreign Ministry senior official as saying, when several hundred Japanese were stranded in Iraq after Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

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