November 7, 2008 / 10:36 AM / 12 years ago

Japan's new air force chief apologises for war row

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s new air force chief apologised on Friday for his predecessor, who was sacked last week for denying Japan was an aggressor in World War Two, and vowed to restore pride in his troops.

Kenichiro Hokazono, 57, replaces Toshio Tamogami, whose history essay rejected the government’s view and sparked anger in China and South Korea, where many suffered under Japan’s wartime aggression.

“I reflect deeply and apologise from my heart that a person in the important position of air force chief of staff damaged the people’s trust by publicly expressing an opinion different from that of the government,” Hokazono told reporters at his first news conference.

“I intend to take the lead in creating an open and active air force, full of confidence and pride,” he said.

Hokazono announced that a further 16 members of the air force had been found to have entered the essay competition won by Tamogami, bringing the total to 94.

The organiser of the contest, a real estate company, has said that all 230 entrants expressed similar views to the former general.

Tamogami’s opinions are also shared by some right-wing historians and politicians, but contradict an official government apology issued in 1995 and endorsed by Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Aso, who has in the past offended South Korea with remarks that appeared to endorse Japan’s 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula, is under pressure from the opposition to make his personal views public.

He will be anxious to smooth over the controversy weeks ahead of a trilateral summit with China and South Korea to be held in southern Japan. Rows over history have chilled Japan’s ties with its two neighbours in the past.

Tamogami was fired from his position as air force chief of staff, but allowed to retire with a lump sum from the armed forces, a fact that has irritated some government critics.

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