GSDF group arrives in South Sudan

Kyodo

An advance group of Ground Self-Defense Force personnel flew into the South Sudanese capital of Juba on Sunday to prepare for the arrival of the main contingent, which will join U.N. peacekeeping operations in the fledgling African nation.

The GSDF’s mission in the U.N. peacekeeping operation is to rebuild the war-torn nation’s infrastructure, which has been ravaged by 22 years of brutal civil war.

South Sudan, the 54th country on the African continent, gained independence from Sudan last July following a January 2011 referendum in which an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted to secede.

The SDF operation in South Sudan is the SDF’s ninth in participation with a U.N. peacekeeping operation. The first was the dispatch of engineering troops to Cambodia in 1992.

Thirty-four GSDF members departed from Narita airport on Saturday, including a 13-member engineering unit. While 23 will stay in Juba, the remainder will fly into Uganda, which shares South Sudan’s northern border.

The GSDF team will take charge of receiving logistic materials to be delivered to sustain Japanese peacekeeping activities in South Sudan, while conducting necessary arrangements for setting up camps for Japanese personnel.

Japan plans to send around 210 GSDF troops in stages to the country by the end of March for building roads and bridges across the nation. The actual engineering work will start around April.

Full-fledged work will start in June after the first 210-member unit is replaced by a second batch of around 330 GSDF personnel.

The dispatch period for the GSDF engineers will last through the end of October, but Tokyo envisions extending the period to five years, given the strong need for infrastructure construction in the country.

South Sudan faces a pressing need to develop its social infrastructure because the civil war claimed the lives of 2 million people between 1983 and 2005 and has also delayed its economic development.