Defense Minister Tomomi Inada has officially confirmed that digital copies of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s daily activity logs from South Sudan last year exist.
The GSDF contingent is part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in war-torn South Sudan. The Defense Ministry has been under fire since admitting it “found” some of the activity logs from last summer after previously stating they had been “entirely discarded.”
The logs could lead to the GSDF’s withdrawal if they describe the deadly situation last July as “fighting.” That would violate Japan’s conditions for deploying the troops, which state that a cease-fire must be in place.
The logs describe the tense situation the Japanese faced in July 2016 when the civil war threatened its camp in Juba, forcing Japanese civilians and diplomats to evacuate on C-130s sent from Japan.
Inada denies any intention to conceal the logs.
“I’ve confirmed that digital copies of all of the daily reports have been kept at the Joint Staff office since we began sending units to South Sudan,” Inada told a Diet committee on Friday, when asked by a lawmaker from the Democratic Party, the main opposition force.
Personnel from the GSDF’s civil engineering corps have been in the African country since 2012 as part of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
Any government documents suggesting a conflict situation would be sensitive in light of the Constitution, which imposes strict restrictions on the use of weapons by SDF contingents deployed overseas.
Opposition parties have demanded that Inada step down over her handling of the matter.
The activity logs in question were compiled by GSDF service members between July 7 and July 12 last year, when more than 270 people died in the fighting between government forces and rebels in the capital Juba, where the GSDF is deployed.
The Defense Ministry, which received an information disclosure request in October for the logs, said in December that the documents had been discarded after their content was relayed to superiors.
But after expanding the search, the ministry announced earlier this month that it had found digital copies in the computer system of the Joint Staff, which oversees the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense forces.
The Joint Staff was also found to have digital copies of all logs created since the start of the UNMISS mission, the ministry’s press secretary Hirofumi Takeda said Friday. He said the logs were “not stored in an organized manner” and found in multiple computer folders.
Debate flared up over the security situation in South Sudan last year as the Japanese government debated whether to allow GSDF troops to take on the unprecedented task of rescue missions for U.N. staff and others who come under attack during the peacekeeping mission.
Japan went ahead with the decision in November after the government judged the security situation in Juba to be relatively calm.
The daily logs covering July, disclosed by the ministry on Feb. 7, reveal that GSDF members were witnessing “combat” between South Sudan government forces and rebels. The logs said the personnel took measures to avoid being drawn into the fighting.
Inada denies the situation in July met the government’s definition of “an act of combat.”
That designation requires the GSDF to withdraw due to constitutional restrictions.