Two American women will on Friday become the first female soldiers to graduate from the elite and hugely demanding Ranger School, the US Army announced.

"Congratulations to all of our new Rangers. Each Ranger School graduate has shown the physical and mental toughness to successfully lead organizations at any level.

"This course has proven that every soldier, regardless of gender, can achieve his or her full potential," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said Monday.

"We owe soldiers the opportunity to serve successfully in any position where they are qualified and capable, and we continue to look for ways to select, train, and retain the best soldiers to meet our nation's needs," he added.

Nineteen women began the rigorous training program in April but 17 were eliminated.





South Korea announced Wednesday a series of heavy-weaponry, live-fire military drills with the United States as part response to a recent landmine attack blamed on North Korea.

Four exercises, involving tanks, howitzers, attack helicopters and fighter bombers, will be held in the coming weeks in an area around 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of the North Korean border, the defence ministry said.

"This will show our preparedness to retaliate against any provocative acts, including such a treacherous act of aggression as the landmine attack", a ministry spokesman said.

The first drill was to take place later Wednesday, with the last one conducted towards the end of the month.


Now 73 and sitting in his Tokyo home, Yohachi Nakajima fights back tears when he thinks of his Chinese adopted mother and the farming village he once called home -- a boy lost inside imperial Japan's crumbling empire.

He was just three years old when Tokyo surrendered on August 15, 1945, ending World War II but also leaving about 1.5 million Japanese stranded in Manchukuo, Tokyo's puppet regime in northeastern China.

Farmers, labourers and young military reserves had migrated into the region from the early 1930s, attracted by government promises of a better life as Japan marched across Asia in a brutal expansionist campaign.

Nakajima's father, Hiroshi, was among those drawn to Manchukuo, but the frontier life proved miserable and the elder Nakajima was drafted into the military just three weeks before Japan's surrender. His fate is unknown.

Ill and poverty-stricken, Nakajima's mother sought out a local family to care for her son.

"Japan was an invader for them, clearly," Nakajima, who now lives in Tokyo, told AFP.

"It must have been pure humanity that convinced them to adopt and raise me, a child of the aggressor."

The malnourished boy, stomach bulging from starvation, was brought into the centre of the village as curious locals looked on.

One woman, Sun Zhenqin, volunteered to be his guardian and soon gave her scrawny charge a new name, "Lai Fu" (good luck coming).

"She would feed me from her mouth and gently massaged my stomach," Nakajima said.

"She was a midwife. It must have been almost on impulse that she took me in."

- 'Pearl in the palm' -

After Emperor Hirohito announced his country's surrender, the situation for Japanese migrants trapped in northeastern China deteriorated, with tens of thousands dying of hunger and disease as a frigid winter set in later in the year.


Some migrants-turned-refugees resorted to mass suicide, cramming into small houses that they blew up with grenades, while roving groups of sword-wielding male migrants stabbed women and children to death to end their suffering.

It is believed that just a handful of children were adopted by local families. Many others died of starvation, sickness and some were even killed by fellow Japanese out of mercy. There are no reliable statistics on how many survived.

The mother of Sun Shouxun, 58, a Chinese man who now lives in the northeastern city of Changchun, was one of those who took in a Japanese child.

He described his adopted Japanese sister as "a pearl in the palm" for his loving parents.

"Public opinion at the time was rather strong against raising a Japanese child and our relatives also opposed it, but my mother insisted on doing so," he said.

It is not known exactly how many Japanese children found new homes in China like Nakajima and Sun's sister, but Tokyo has confirmed just over 2,800.

Nakajima returned to Japan when he was 16 and afterwards spoke just once with his adopted mother, in 1966, during a trip to China when he acted as an interpreter on a cultural exchange.

However, the country, by then in the grips of the chaotic Cultural Revolution, was largely closed to foreigners and Nakajima only made brief contact by telephone with Sun who could only shout "Lai Fu! Lai Fu!" before the call got cut off.

The two never talked again and Sun died in 1975.

- 'No phone calls, no letters' -

Tokyo's efforts to repatriate those left behind in China only began several years after 1972, when it normalised diplomatic ties with Beijing.




New Zealanders were presented with 40 flag options Monday as the country moved a step closer towards voting on whether it wanted to change its national standard.

The government-appointed panel overseeing the project released its long list of designs, chosen from more than 10,000 public submissions.

The 40 will now be subject to further scrutiny, including an intensive intellectual property review, before being whittled down to four to be put to a public vote later this year.

A second referendum is planned for next year when the country will choose between the existing flag -- which features Britain's Union Jack -- and the most popular new design.

Project head John Burrows said the potential new flag had to be unmistakably from New Zealand and "celebrate us as a progressive, inclusive nation that is connected to its environment, and has a sense of its past and vision for its future".

"It is important that those designs are timeless, can work in a variety of contexts, are simple, uncluttered, balanced and have good contrast."

Common themes among the 40 flag offerings are silver ferns, the symbol used by New Zealand sports teams, and the Southern Cross constellation. Colour schemes are predominantly red, black or blue, and white.





A draft of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II includes the word "apology", public broadcaster NHK reported Monday.

The closely-watched remarks -- expected on Friday -- will be heavily scrutinised by China and Korea, which dispute Tokyo's version of its wartime history and who are waiting to see if Abe repeats earlier apologies for Japan's militarism in the 20th century.

NHK said an original draft of Abe's statement included the words "apology" and "aggression".

Those words appear in a landmark 1995 statement by then premier Tomiichi Murayama, who expressed "deep remorse" and a "heartfelt apology" over Japan's actions.

The so-called Murayama Statement said Japan "through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations".

Also Monday, the right-leaning Sankei newspaper said Abe was likely to use the word "aggression", though not necessarily linking it to Japan's warring.