The government on Monday gave the go-ahead for the mobilization of Self-Defense Forces ground personnel and aircraft to evacuate Japanese citizens from South Sudan’s capital, Juba, amid fighting between forces loyal to different government factions there.
Three Air Self-Defense Force C-130 transport planes took off from the Komaki Air Base in Aichi Prefecture in the early evening.
The South Sudan government has been battling since Thursday with an armed anti-government group, reportedly leaving hundreds of people dead and sparking fears that the country’s civil war will flare up again.
Forty-seven workers involved in aid projects organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency are currently in Juba. Including them, about 70 Japanese civilians are in the country, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a news conference earlier in the day.
JICA on Monday was chartering an airplane to withdraw the 47 workers from South Sudan. The Japanese government was meanwhile preparing the C-130s, and also aimed to transport Japanese citizens by land, Suga said.
Tokyo has confirmed the safety of 70 Japanese citizens, he said.
Japan has dispatched several SDF officers to the headquarters of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) in Juba. Ground Self-Defense Force engineering troops are also aiding construction work in the country. There were 350 such personnel there as of last September, according to the Defense Ministry’s website.
Under Japan’s U.N. Peacekeeping Law, SDF units can be dispatched to a U.N.-led peacekeeping mission only if a cease-fire agreement is being maintained by forces there. Asked if this condition is still being met in South Sudan, Suga said officials believe so.
“We don’t consider that any armed conflict as defined by the PKO Law has broken out in the operation area of UNMISS,” he said.
Last year the Diet enacted controversial legislation to expand the legal scope of oversea missions for the SDF, including an article to allow units engaged in a U.N.-led peacekeeping mission to protect aid workers, U.N. employees or peacekeeping soldiers of another country.
Asked if this new article could be invoked, Suga said Tokyo does not presently assume such an operation will be conducted.
The legislation took effect in March this year, but the SDF has yet to draw up any rules of engagement and personnel have not undergone training for such a mission.