GSDF kicks off S. Sudan mission with ceremony

Kyodo

A Ground Self-Defense Force engineering unit to be deployed to South Sudan to help build infrastructure as part of U.N. peacekeeping operations was presented with flags for the mission at a ceremony Saturday.

Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa handed flags both to the unit and to the roughly 40-member advance party. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also attended the ceremony, which drew about 500 participants, including family members of the troops.

The GSDF personnel will be involved in work to build roads and bridges in the capital, Juba, and its vicinity. Rebuilding infrastructure is vital to the development of the new country, which gained independence in July after prolonged civil strife.

Noda stressed that the dispatch is also meant to demonstrate Japan’s appreciation to the international community for its support after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

“Please show our appreciation by devoting yourselves to this mission,” Noda said during the ceremony.

The advance party is slated to leave for Juba later this week to arrange logistics and draw up construction plans for the unit’s camp. That will be followed by a group of about 210 personnel who will arrive by March and begin infrastructure work around April.

They will be replaced by June by a second group of some 330 personnel, who are expected to begin full-fledged operations.

The official deployment period is until Oct. 31, but the government plans to extend it and the unit is expected to operate in South Sudan for five years.