• Kyodo

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Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said Self-Defense Force personnel taking part in U.N. peacekeeping operations in South Sudan could be withdrawn if the security conditions deteriorate in the troubled African nation.

“The situation could abruptly change so we will consistently gather necessary information for ensuring safety,” Inada said in a recent interview with various news outlets. Her comments come ahead of Monday, when the SDF personnel stationed in the new country begin operating under expanded guidelines that allow them to respond to requests by U.N. staff and others in need of assistance, such as if they come under attack.

Inada said she is “not concerned” about the new mission, which is in line with the nation’s new security legislation that gives SDF personnel greater operational leeway.

The SDF troops “are well trained” and the officer commanding the unit in South Sudan “is a person who can assess the situation calmly,” the minister added.

In the capital Juba, more than 270 people died in July due to large-scale clashes between government forces and rebels. While admitting that the overall security situation in South Sudan is tough, the Japanese government has said Juba is relatively calm.

“If gun battles lasts longer than the (July) fighting, and the SDF cannot secure their own safety, it is possible that we would consider their withdrawal,” Inada said.

The new role legally includes operations to rescue foreign military personnel, but Inada said such a scenario “is not expected to arise. Foreign troops can protect themselves.”

The rescue mission remains controversial at home, with some critics warning that the new role could lead SDF members to become embroiled in overseas military actions for the first time since World War II, in possible violation of the country’s war-renouncing Constitution.

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