The government plans to extend the Ground Self-Defense Force’s participation in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan by five months through next March, according to a government source.
The decision to extend the SDF deployment period, currently set to end Oct. 31, may be approved by the Cabinet as soon as Oct. 25, the source said Tuesday.
Despite violence in parts of South Sudan, where followers of President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar have clashed in recent months, the government says the situation is relatively calm in the capital Juba, where the SDF personnel are stationed.
By law, SDF personnel can participate in peacekeeping operations only in areas where parties to a conflict have ceased fighting.
The move to extend the SDF mission follows the U.N. decision in August to extend the mandate of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan until Dec. 15.
SDF personnel joined the mission in 2012 with the aim of developing infrastructure in the nation that gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
A unit composed mainly of members of the GSDF 5th Infantry Regiment, based in the city of Aomori, is set to take over from the currently deployed unit in the middle of next month.
According to the source, the government will likely make a final decision next month on whether to assign an expanded range of duties to the newly deployed unit, for which separate Cabinet approval will be sought.
The potential new duties, made possible by controversial security legislation that came into force in March, include going to the aid of U.N. personnel under attack by armed groups.
The government will base its decision on whether to assign the new duties on the security situation in South Sudan and the level of skill that personnel display in training exercises in Japan.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who visited Juba earlier this month, is set to observe the training as soon as Sunday.
The SDF’s expanded role under the security legislation has attracted criticism from opposition parties, which have said the new assignments could put personnel at greater risk.
Japan remains prohibited from using force to settle international disputes under the pacifist Constitution.