Japan is seeking to spend more time than earlier planned to assess the situation in South Sudan and other issues before deciding whether to assign its Self-Defense Forces members to new tasks during U.N. peacekeeping operations there, government sources said Tuesday.
As the current SDF deployment period to the U.N. mission in South Sudan will end Oct. 31, the Japanese government is making arrangements to secure Cabinet approvals in two stages — first on the extension of the deployment period by the end of October and second on the assignments of the new tasks in November.
The new assignments are part of the expanded role SDF members have become able to perform under Japan’s contentious security legislation, which came into force in March. They include going to the rescue of U.N. staff and others under attack with relaxed criteria on the use of weapons during U.N. peacekeeping activities.
Opposition parties have said the new missions could expose SDF members to higher risks, coupled with the seemingly deteriorating situation in South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011. Major fighting erupted in July between the government and rebel forces despite a peace deal last year.
But Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said Tuesday she confirmed in person that the situation in the South Sudan capital Juba, where the SDF members are currently deployed, was “relatively calm” during her weekend trip to the African country.
Rebels were also reportedly said to have attacked trucks carrying civilians on a main road to Juba, killing 21 people Monday, but Inada also said the incident was one of a number of “sporadic” clashes taking place in the country.
Sending SDF troops to foreign countries where they could become embroiled in military actions is a sensitive issue in Japan due to its postwar pacifist Constitution, which bans the use of force to settle international disputes.
Japan began sending SDF troops to South Sudan in 2012 for the U.N. mission called UNMISS to help develop infrastructure. The government is keen to continue sending SDF troops beyond October, which is the deadline for the deployment period of the current unit.
The government is considering making a final decision by mid-November on whether to give the new assignments to the next unit that will head to South Sudan after studying in detail the local situation and progress seen in training the SDF, the sources said.
The next unit will comprise mainly members of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s 5th Infantry Regiment, which is based in the city of Aomori.
Inada plans to observe the SDF members engaging in training later in the month, they said.
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