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Last Japanese Ship Returns from Six-Year Indian Ocean Mission


The final Japanese navy tanker has returned home from the Indian Ocean, ending a six-year mission in support of U.S. led coalition troops in Afghanistan. As Naomi Martig reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong, the tanker's return comes amid a political deadlock over whether to continue the controversial mission.

The Japanese tanker was welcomed to a port in Tokyo by cheering families, a brass honor band and several senior government officials, including Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba.

Ishiba praised the Marine Self Defense Forces for what he called a "world class effort." He said the defense ministry is doing all it can to enact anti-terror legislation as soon as possible.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's administration brought back the two ships after the main opposition party failed to extend the navy mission past its November deadline. Opposition leaders have since refused to back legislation granting a new mandate.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura also spoke to the crew, promising to restart the mission.

"We are determined to approve legislation on combating terror in the current Diet [Parliament] session, that would continue refueling activities [in the Indian Ocean]," he said.

The first Japanese navy ship operating in the Indian Ocean returned to a port in southwestern Japan earlier this week.

Japan began the refueling mission after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The tankers were providing fuel and other logistical support to troops in Afghanistan.

The country's opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house of parliament, argues that the mission violates the country's pacifist constitution and that it lacks a U.N. mandate.

Japan's more powerful lower house of parliament, controlled by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has approved a resumption of the mission. The opposition, however, has pledged to block the bill. Prospects for the navy's return to the Indian Ocean remain uncertain.

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