Japan says sorry for chemical weapon injuries

Tokyo has expressed its "true regrets" for the latest injuries caused by chemical weapons abandoned in China by Japanese troops during World War II.

Three Chinese people were injured last week when poisonous gas leaked from weapons left in the Panyu District of Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province.

After checks by its own investigation team, the Japanese Embassy in Beijing yesterday confirmed the injuries had been caused by chemical weapons.

"Our government released a statement on Sunday and expressed true regrets for the accident," said Ide Keiji (井出敬二), minister in charge of press relations at the embassy.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hatsuhisa Takashima said in the statement that Japan "truly regrets that the accident happened and expresses heartfelt sympathy to the sufferers."

The three injured people were taken to hospital after they inhaled the gas, which leaked from shells while they were removing sand from a riverbank.

Officials in Guangzhou could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Keiji (井出敬二)said the Japanese Government has been seeking ways to lessen the danger to Chinese people by quickly collecting all the chemical weapons its forces left in China.

In recent years, several deaths and many injuries have been caused by Japan's abandoned chemical weapons in China, especially in the northeast of the country.

In August 2003, one man was killed and 43 injured after five canisters of mustard gas were unearthed at a construction site in Qiqihar in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

In July 2004, two schoolboys in northeastern China were wounded when they uncovered and played with abandoned chemical weapons.

Bu Ping, a researcher at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, estimated that Japan may have abandoned more than 2 million chemical weapons across China at the end of World War II.

Since then, about 2,000 Chinese people have been killed or injured by the weapons, said Bu.

Under the international Chemical Weapons Convention Japan is required to dispose of all chemical weapons left in China by 2007.