Japanese troops taking part in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan on Monday took on new roles of rescuing U.N. staff and other personnel under attack and of playing a bigger part in protecting U.N. peacekeepers’ camps.
The Japanese government has assigned the new duties to a 350-member Ground Self-Defense Force unit that Monday replaced a unit deployed in the conflict-torn country the past six months. The new unit will continue to undertake the Japanese troops’ main task of building roads and other infrastructure in South Sudan.
The new duties are authorized by security legislation enacted last year by the Diet that gives the nation’s Self-Defense Forces more leeway in activities overseas under Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution, but the move remains controversial at home.
Critics have warned the changes could lead to SDF troops becoming embroiled in overseas military actions for the first time since World War II, in possible violation of the postwar Constitution.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga emphasized that the SDF troops newly sent to South Sudan have “gone through substantial education and training” for performing the new tasks.
“I believe they will be able to carry out their jobs without any difficulty,” the top government spokesman told a daily press conference.
To allay concerns among the public, the Japanese government has said a rescue mission would be undertaken “in very limited cases,” such as when South Sudan authorities or other U.N. peacekeeping infantry units, which are primarily responsible for policing operations, cannot respond to an urgent request.
Activities of the new SDF unit are also limited to the South Sudan capital of Juba and nearby areas. While admitting that the overall security situation in South Sudan is tough, the Japanese government has said Juba is relatively calm.
South Sudan is the newest country in the world, having gained independence from Sudan in 2011. But it has been mired in conflict between government and rebel forces, with more than 270 people killed in fighting in Juba this past July.
Japan has deployed civil engineering corps to the African country since 2012 as part of the U.N. mission in South Sudan or UNMISS.
The new batch of SDF troops, led by Col Yoshiro Tanaka, includes a 60-member garrison force that will be mainly called upon when there is a request for a rescue mission.
The Japanese government has also increased the number of medical officers deployed to South Sudan from three to four.
In a ceremony in Juba on Sunday to mark the change in Japanese units, Tanaka said, “The city of Juba looks calm, but we should gather information to ensure our safety and take appropriate measures.” He also told the troops to fulfill their duties so that “all return home safely.”
Under Japan’s new security legislation that came into force in March, SDF members involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations are allowed to use weapons more flexibly than before.
Previously, the use of weapons by SDF personnel had been limited strictly to self-defense. But now when executing rescue missions, they can fire warning shots to make an armed group or rioters back off.
SDF members can also now join foreign troops to defend a U.N. peacekeeping camp that is shared by Japan and other countries, even if they are not the direct target of an attack.
Credited to JapanToday