The government plans to make official a controversial new role for the Self-Defense Forces on Nov. 15, prior to a new batch of troops beginning U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan, government sources said Monday.
The new mandate, which will allow troops to go to the rescue of U.N. staff and others under attack, is part of the expanded role for the SDF under new security legislation that took effect in March. The legislation, among other issues, has loosened restrictions on the use of weapons by SDF personnel engaged in U.N. peacekeeping operations.
It will be the first time, however, for the government to give SDF members the mandate to actually carry out any of the expanded roles allowed under the new legislation.
The new role will be assigned to Ground Self-Defense Force troops who are to be sent to South Sudan starting from Nov. 20 to replace the current 350-member unit engaging in the construction of roads and other infrastructure as part of the U.N. mission, called UNMISS.
Infrastructure-building will remain the main task of the next batch of troops, but the government plans to enable them to additionally engage in rescue missions in response to urgent requests. The troops are expected to finish preparations and become ready to perform the task around mid-December, the sources said.
The government also plans to assign the troops another new role made possible under the security legislation, namely defending U.N. peacekeepers’ camps together with troops from other nations.
The government plans to seek Cabinet approval on Nov. 15 for the assignment of the rescue role in general. But the base camp defense role does not require Cabinet approval.
The issue of the two new roles has stirred controversy among people who are afraid that they could draw SDF members into military action for the first time since World War II and cost the lives of troops or local people.
Controversy over the expanding role of the SDF overseas has stemmed largely from the nation’s war-renouncing Constitution, which also bans the use of force to settle international disputes.
Apparently to ensure the safety of personnel, the government plans to limit the SDF’s activities to the South Sudan capital of Juba and nearby areas, according to the sources.
The government has maintained that the situation in Juba, where the GSDF personnel are stationed, is relatively calm.
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