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. Japan, US working on NKorea emergency plan: FM
TOKYO, Jan 5 (AFP) Jan 05, 2007
Japan and the United States are drawing up a joint contingency plan to prepare for a possible crisis in the Korean peninsula, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said on Friday.

"We must consider how to protect some 20,000 Japanese residents and tens of thousands of tourists" in South Korea, Aso told reporters, without elaborating on the various scenarios being considered.

"We need to think about ways to evacuate Japanese nationals using US military vessels and civilian ships," he said, adding that the plan would also consider how to deal with refugees from the Communist North.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported earlier that Tokyo fears as many as 100,000 to 150,000 North Korean refugees could flood into Japan in the event of an unspecified contingency in the Korean peninsula.

The estimate comes from a committee linked to Japan's national security council, the report said, citing unnamed sources related to the matter.

It said the council concluded that such a large number of refugees would overwhelm existing facilities in Japan and some of them might need to be transferred to a third country.

North Korea shocked Japan and the rest of the world when it announced on October 9 that it had conducted its first nuclear test, sparking international condemnation and UN sanctions on the already impoverished nation.

Six-nation negotiations aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs were held in Beijing in December after a 13-month hiatus due to Pyongyang's boycott over US financial sanctions but negotiators failed to make much progress.

US television network ABC reported Thursday that North Korea appears to have prepared for a second nuclear weapons test, citing US defense officials.

But Aso played down the report, saying: "We see no major development in the situation."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the top government spokesman, said the crisis plan for the Korean peninsula was part of ongoing efforts by Japan and the United States to prepared for possible crises in North East Asia.

"Japan and the United States have always worked on a joint military plan or cooperation in the case of possible attacks on Japan or any contingency in the nearby area," he told reporters.

Tokyo and Washington are also preparing to draw up a plan to coordinate the response of their armed forces if China invades Taiwan, according to the Kyodo News agency.

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