ADDIS ABABA – Japan’s ambassador to South Sudan is sheltering in a Ground Self-Defense Force facility used for its peacekeeping operation in the nation’s capital amid ongoing unrest, sources have said.
Masahiko Kiya as well as an embassy staff member are said to be staying at the facility at night for their protection, the sources said Wednesday.
The continued presence of the SDF could be brought into question by the revelation that safety cannot be guaranteed even within the embassy, which contains the ambassador’s residence and living quarters for staff.
Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has said the situation in the African country “does not fall under the category of armed conflict,” and thus satisfies Japan’s requirements for SDF personnel to take part in peacekeeping activities.
More than 270 people have died in fighting that erupted between supporters of President Salva Kiir and those loyal to Vice President Riek Machar on July 8.
Both sides stopped their skirmishes in accordance with a cease-fire issued on July 11, but order has yet to be restored, with fighters reportedly engaging in looting.
On July 14, four workers at the embassy were airlifted to Djibouti aboard an Air Self-Defense Force C-130 transport aircraft. Kiya and the staff member who remained in South Sudan have been taking shelter at the SDF camp since then, according to the sources.
The pair carry out business at the embassy and attend meetings at U.N. facilities during the day, and “there is no impediment to their work,” a Foreign Ministry source said.
Kiya said in a telephone interview that the security situation is “severe.”
“We’re trying to continue with our duties as much as possible having secured our safety,” Kiya said.
He said the embassy will continue its work confirming the safety of the roughly 20 Japanese still in the country and supporting South Sudan’s nation-building efforts.
A GSDF contingent of four command personnel and about 350 engineers, mostly from the 7th division based in Chitose, Hokkaido, are participating in the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS. Japan began sending personnel to take part in the mission in late 2011.
The SDF personnel have remained within U.N. facilities since fighting restarted and were yet to resume their activities as of Tuesday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga acknowledged Wednesday that “a small number” of embassy staff are taking shelter at the SDF facility.
Suga told a news conference that the U.N. Security Council was debating whether to extend the mandate of UNMISS beyond the end of this month, and Japan will take that decision into account when planning what to do with SDF personnel.
Prior to the four embassy staff members being airlifted out of South Sudan, 47 Japanese nationals, including aid workers linked to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, had been evacuated from the country.