A watchdog led by the Defense Ministry will investigate whether the ministry’s upper echelons systematically concealed records about conditions faced by Ground Self-Defense Force peacekeepers stationed in South Sudan, a source said Friday.
The investigation is expected to center on media reports that the GSDF initially planned to make the daily activity logs public but was deterred by a senior civilian bureaucrat in the SDF Joint Staff, which oversees operations of the SDF’s three branches.
The revelation adds weight to opposition party claims that the ministry hid the logs in a bid to allow peacekeepers to continue their mission despite the risk that deteriorating security conditions could leave them caught in the middle of an armed conflict.
The government said last week that it will end the SDF’s participation in the United Nations’ mission in South Sudan at the end of May. It has denied that the withdrawal is because of deteriorating security conditions, instead citing a diminishing need for help in building infrastructure.
Opposition parties are demanding that Defense Minister Tomomi Inada resign over remarks last month that the GSDF had destroyed copies of the daily logs.
Sources said Thursday that the GSDF was actually in possession of the data until around January.
Inada, already under fire for her connection to a scandal-hit nationalist school operator, has in response ordered the Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance, a special unit under her control, to investigate the handling of the logs.
“The public is watching whether my civilian control (of the SDF) is effective, so I will thoroughly ascertain the facts,” Inada told a news conference Friday.
The Inspector General’s Office, launched in 2007 following a bid-rigging scandal over defense procurement, reports directly to the defense minister and is headed by a former high-ranking public prosecutor.
The law forbids SDF personnel from participating in overseas peacekeeping missions unless a cease-fire is in place between warring parties.
This means daily records of the security situation in the capital, Juba, where GSDF personnel are serving, were of crucial importance in justifying the continued presence.
More than 270 people were killed in Juba last July in fighting between government forces and rebels.
In response to a request for further information in October, the ministry said in December that the records had been “entirely discarded.”
Then last month, the ministry claimed it had “found” copies of the logs in the computer system of the Joint Staff, but maintained that the GSDF had not held onto its own copies.
Several sources said Thursday that GSDF Chief of Staff Gen. Toshiya Okabe was aware of the GSDF’s retention of the logs before the issue garnered public attention.
Okabe, however, denied those allegations Thursday night, Inada said.
While the role of the SDF is limited under the pacifist Constitution, controversial security legislation that came into force last year allowed the current grouping of GSDF personnel in South Sudan to be assigned expanded duties, including aiding fellow peacekeepers under attack.
Copies of the logs released in February used the word “combat” in describing the conflict between government and rebel forces, prompting opposition parties to argue that conditions had deteriorated beyond a point that GSDF personnel could handle.