SDF contingent returns from Golan Heights mission

JIJI

A 33-strong contingent of the Self-Defense Forces returned Monday from its peacekeeping mission on the Golan Heights in southwestern Syria, effectively putting an end to 17 years of Japanese participation in the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force.

On Dec. 21, then-Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto ordered the SDF to end the mission in the troubled region because security there was rapidly deteriorating.

The 33 SDF members arrived at Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture on Monday morning. Those still engaged in the withdrawal effort there will return later this month.

“I feel relieved because we all came back to Japan safely,” said Ground Self-Defense Force Capt. Masaki Umetani, 33, executive officer of the contingent. “We are proud because we have played a role in the 17-year peacekeeping mission on the Golan Heights.”

Now that the government is also looking to wind down the SDF’s support mission in Haiti, which is aimed at helping the Caribbean nation recover from a powerful earthquake in 2010, South Sudan, which won independence from Sudan in July 2011, will be the only place where SDF elements are still participating in a U.N. peacekeeping operation.

The Golan Heights mission, based on the law for cooperating in U.N.-sponsored peacekeeping operations abroad, began in February 1996.