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Japan preparing up to $5 bln in Afghan aid -paper

Saturday, October 31, 2009 - 17:47

Japan is preparing new aid for Afghanistan of up to $5 billion to be used to help former Taliban fighters find jobs and build roads, a big increase from previous commitments, the Nikkei newspaper said on Saturday.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is expected to present the details to U.S. President Barack Obama when he visits Tokyo on Nov 12-13, the Nikkei said, a move that could deflect attention from a row over the reorganisation of U.S. military bases in Japan.

Japan's defence minister has said Tokyo would end a refuelling mission in support of coalition operations in Afghanistan when its mandate expires in January. Washington has said Japan should find other ways to assist Afghanistan instead.

The aid package, which would be between $4 billion and $5 billion, would be spread out over five years starting in 2010, the Nikkei said.

It would represent a hefty increase from the about $1.8 billion Japan has spent on Afghanistan over the last eight years, the paper said.

Hatoyama's Democratic Party came to power last month promising a more independent foreign policy from key security ally Washington. [ID:nT250401]

But differences over military issues, especially over where to relocate a U.S. Marine base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, have strained ties between the world's two biggest economies. [ID:nT264763]

Hatoyama said during the election campaign he wanted to move the Futenma air base off Okinawa.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates bluntly told Tokyo this month he wanted a 2006 pact to replace Futenma with a facility in a less crowded part of Okinawa and shift 8,000 U.S. Marines to Guam to go ahead as planned.

The deal was part of a broader agreement on reorganising the 47,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan. (Reporting by David Dolan; Editing by Dean Yates)

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