Japanese soldiers in camouflage uniforms landed in Goma Friday, ready to begin a new role abroad.
Here to help Rwandan refugees, the 470 troops will coordinate with U.N. peacekeepers but they will take orders from their own officers.Japan's military presence abroad since World War II had been limited to peacekeeping operations under U.N. command.
"The time is changing," said Col. Makoto Nasu, a 47-year-old officer from Tokyo. "We can go anywhere in the world - to help people."
The troops landed in batches aboard Kenya Airways chartered aircraft from Nairobi. Japanese media set up satellite dishes at the airport to capture the moment.
The troops are to be based in Goma, on Zaire's frontier with Rwanda, until the end of the year.
Japan bans the use of its troops to settle international disputes. It relaxed the ban in 1992 to allow peacekeeping operations in Cambodia and Mozambique.