National / Politics

Government says it has 'found' lost activity logs of GSDF troops in South Sudan

Kyodo

The Defense Ministry said Tuesday it has found daily activity logs of Japanese troops in South Sudan for last July when the security situation there sharply deteriorated during U.N. peacekeeping operations, reversing its earlier position that the documents had been entirely discarded.

“I’m aware that our response to the issue was insufficient,” Defense Minister Tomomi Inada told a news conference as she admitted the ministry found digital data of the logs after expanding its search.

She denied any intention to conceal the information.

The documents have drawn attention as firsthand information on the situation in the unstable country where Japan continues to deploy its Ground Self-Defense Force personnel. The ministry received a request for information disclosure in October but said in December that the logs had been discarded.

But the ministry suddenly admitted the existence of the documents after ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Taro Kono revealed on Twitter on Monday that the logs had been found.

“After receiving more information disclosure requests and being urged by Diet member Taro Kono to search again . . . we looked at a wider area and found the digital data of the daily report at the Joint Staff office,” Inada said.

The daily activity logs were between July 7 and 12, when a large-scale clash between government forces and rebels erupted in the South Sudan capital of Juba. More than 270 people died in the fighting.

According to a ministry official, the logs were created by GSDF personnel in South Sudan and reported to a headquarters in Japan. The information was reflected in so-called morning reports compiled at the headquarters and the logs were discarded.

The digital data of the logs, however, was left on a computer of the Joint Staff office and was not noticed in the initial search, the official said.

Following the latest announcement, the ministry disclosed the logs for July 11 and 12. In the reports, the GSDF members said they have to “be careful about getting drawn into sudden fighting in the city” and also referred to the possibility of “the suspension of U.N. activities amid intensifying clashes in Juba.”

Many details in the documents, however, were blacked out.

Last year debate centered on how to assess the security situation in South Sudan as Japan mulled whether to give troops an additional role of going to the aid of U.N. staff and others under attack during the peacekeeping operation.

South Sudan is the newest country in the world, having gained independence from Sudan in 2011. But it has been mired in conflict between government and rebel forces.

Japan has deployed civil engineering corps in the African country since 2012 as part of a U.N. mission in South Sudan called UNMISS. The government decided in November to assign GSDF members to the new controversial role, judging that the situation in Juba is relatively calm.

Under ministry rules, documents on peacekeeping operations should be stored for around three years. But documents can be discarded if they are “created continually and end their purpose in a short term.”

Following controversy over the handling of the information, the ministry plans to keep the daily activity logs of troops who are now engaging in peacekeeping operations for about six months, the official said.