Japan to withdraw its warships from Indian Ocean

Japan may withdraw its warships from the Indian Ocean after their mission supporting U.S. troops in Afghanistan expires, amid criticism that Japan is running a "free gasoline station," Japan's defense minister said Tuesday.

Japan's navy has provided fuel for coalition warships in the region since November 2001 under a special law that was last extended in 2003 but expires on Nov. 1. The mission is part of Japan's contribution to the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

"Our refueling efforts have been highly evaluated by the foreign countries, but there has also been criticism that we're running a 'free gasoline station,"' Yoshinori Ono said during a regular news conference in Tokyo.

Ono did not say who has criticized the mission as a give-away for coalition partners, but Japan's overseas military dispatches are unpopular with the public, and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan has vowed to curtail the missions if it wins power in Sunday's polls.

Japan's Parliament should discuss the matter as soon as possible after the country's Sept. 11 nationwide elections, he said.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has instructed government agencies to reduce the overseas work of the Self-Defense Forces by not extending the special anti-terrorism law allowing the Indian Ocean dispatch, Kyodo News agency reported earlier this month.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said at the time that an official decision would have to wait until after the elections.

The mission was last extended for two years in November 2003.

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