Suicides among military troops in Japan surge as nation expands military role

Suicides among Japanese troops have hit a record high, easily surpassing the national average, since the country expanded its military role overseas, the Defense Agency said Friday.

A total of 94 members of the 255,000 Self-Defense Force soldiers killed themselves during the year ending March 31, 2005 , up 25 percent from 75 suicides in the previous year and the highest number on record, a Defense Agency spokesman said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

This works out at nearly 37 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, by far exceeding the national average of 24 suicides per 100,000 Japanese civilians in the same period.

Japan sent its first troop deployment on a humanitarian mission to Iraq in late 2004 it's first military dispatch to an active combat zone since World War II.

The agency spokesman refused to link the spike in suicides to the mission in Iraq , saying none have committed suicide during their Iraq posting and only four did on their return.

He said in most cases the reasons for Japanese servicemen killing themselves are not known by the military.

The Defense Agency last year set up a taskforce to reduce the risk of suicides among soldiers. It also provides stress relief seminars, psychiatric examinations and health checks for soldiers heading to and returning from Iraq .

Japan has mobilized about 500 troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah to provide non-combative, humanitarian support. Some 7,000 troops have served the mission, rotated every three months, since December 2004. Tokyo has approved an extension of the mission through the end of the year, although a withdrawal by around May is widely expected.

The Iraq mission is part of Japan 's growing involvement in overseas military operations. Japanese soldiers also have provided logistical backup in the war in Afghanistan since November, 2001, reports the AP.


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