The government announced Tuesday that several hundred Ground Self-Defense Force engineers will be dispatched to South Sudan as part of a United Nations peacekeeping operation.
The dispatch decision followed a rebel attack in the oil-rich Unity state on Saturday that claimed about 80 lives, including 60 rebels.
The government said it “comprehensively” considered various factors, including the unstable situation in South Sudan, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tsuyoshi Saito told a news conference Tuesday morning.
South Sudan officially became independent in July.
“It is true that the region and country has been through a long period of conflict . . . and various things could occur. But the Cabinet came to this decision today after looking into every situation,” Saito said.
The first 200 GSDF engineers will be dispatched in January, followed by about 300 more later.
“I think that the GSDF engineering troops should firmly contribute to the nation-building of South Sudan,” Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa said.
The government maintains five principles for sending Self-Defense Forces elements overseas as part of U.N. peacekeeping activities, including limiting the use of arms by personnel to “the minimum necessary military force” for self-defense.
Given the continuing conflict in South Sudan, members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition force, have urged that this specific principle be relaxed so SDF units will have more flexibility in when they can use their weapons, for example to defend mission comrades from other countries.
But the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda plans to maintain the principles in the coming dispatch.
The United Nations officially asked for Japan’s participation after South Sudan became the 54th African country on July 9 and the government has been considering the dispatch since then.
In September and October, Noda sent two investigative teams to the African country to look into the situation.
Fighting in Sudan that started in 1983 lasted more than two decades and is believed to have resulted in about 2 million deaths.