SDF engineers get Haiti marching orders

by Masami Ito

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Friday ordered the dispatch of about 350 Self-Defense Forces engineers to assist in humanitarian and reconstruction efforts in earthquake-devastated Haiti as part of the U.N. peacekeeping operation there.

“I want to send the SDF unit expeditiously and have them make the most of their abilities to actively contribute . . . in the international community’s activity to stabilize and reconstruct Haiti, which suffered great harm,” Kitazawa told reporters.

According to the Defense Ministry, about 160 service members will leave Saturday for Haiti, where the temblor left 800,000 to 1 million people homeless and reportedly claimed more than 200,000 lives.

The SDF members, which include engineers and logistics experts, will join other nations already engaged in U.N. activities and assist by removing debris and building temporary facilities.

About 200 engineers among the 350-member unit will work on the reconstruction of Haiti.

The action plan on joining the Haiti mission, authorized Friday, states that the mission will begin Friday and continue till the end of November.

The situation in Haiti, however, is grave, and government officials said the mission may have to be extended beyond the deadline specified in the program.

The SDF members will take 54 handguns, 305 rifles and seven machineguns for protection.

By law, SDF members can only use these weapons in self-defense. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan and coalition partners Social Democratic Party and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) made this relatively swift decision after determining that while security may be deteriorating, the region was not involved in armed conflict.

The SDP, headed by Mizuho Fukushima, is in general against the dispatch of the SDF overseas, but agreed to the plan on condition that Japan immediately withdraws its SDF unit if its criteria for authorizing the mission are in jeopardy.