About 160 members of the Self-Defense Forces left for Haiti on Saturday evening to engage in U.N. peacekeeping operations and help with reconstruction activities in the impoverished Caribbean nation devastated by a Jan. 12 quake.
The 160 form the first batch of the 350-member SDF unit, which is composed mainly of engineers and those providing logistic support for the group. The troops are expected to remove rubble, repair roads and build shelters for quake victims.
“Local people who have been suffering from the earthquake are waiting for your arrival. Fully applying the experiences that you gained through the Great Hanshin Earthquake (in 1995) and Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake(in 2004) to help people there,” Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told members of the SDF unit who gathered at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on Saturday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, a separate ceremony was held at a Ground Self-Defense Force garrison in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture.
“As representatives of Japan, we’d like to do our best to help the Haitian people,” the head of the SDF unit, Col. Masaharu Yamamoto, told other members and their families during the morning ceremony.
The dispatch of the SDF unit is in response to a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted unanimously on Jan. 19 that calls for an increase of 1,500 police and 2,000 troops for the peacekeeping operation.
Refueling ships home Two Maritime Self-Defense Force ships returned home Saturday after winding up their refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.
The 13,500-ton supply ship Mashu and the 4,550-ton destroyer Ikazuchi arrived at Harumi Wharf in Tokyo Bay, marking the end of operations that began in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. and continued almost uninterrupted for about eight years.
The government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, let the law authorizing the MSDF operations expire in January on the grounds that demand for such operations had been declining in recent years.