A Defense Ministry watchdog investigating why the daily activity logs of Ground Self-Defense Force troops deployed as peacekeepers in South Sudan vanished for months might release an interim report by month’s end, a government source said.
The Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance is looking into whether the Defense Ministry intentionally concealed the logs, which documented the situation Japanese troops faced as fighting from the civil war approached their base during the U.N. peacekeeping operation in the young African nation.
It is likely to conduct a large-scale investigation by interviewing hundreds of ministry officials and SDF personnel, according to the source.
In an unprecedented move, it may also release the interim report, apparently in a bid to deflect criticism from Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who oversees the watchdog.
Opposition parties are demanding her head over the missing logs.
She is also under fire for her connection to a right-wing educator at the center of a shady real estate deal involving the government.
“The public is watching whether my civilian control (of the SDF) is effective, so I will thoroughly ascertain the facts,” Inada said at a news conference Friday, adding that she had instructed the investigative unit to finish its probe “as soon as possible.”
The investigation ordered by Inada is expected to center on media reports that the GSDF initially planned to publicize the daily activity logs but was thwarted by a senior civilian bureaucrat in the SDF Joint Staff.
SDF personnel are banned by law from participating in international peacekeeping missions unless a cease-fire is in place between the warring parties. The daily records of the security situation in the capital, Juba, where the GSDF is based, were thus important in showing whether keeping them there was acceptable despite nearby fighting last summer that left hundreds of combatants dead.
Opposition lawmakers argue the ministry sought to hide the daily activity logs in an attempt to conceal the deteriorating security situation to allow the GSDF’s mission in Africa to continue as a display of Japan’s willingness to play a more active role in global peacekeeping.
In response to an information disclosure request in October, the ministry said in December that the logs had been “entirely discarded.” But last month, the ministry said it had found copies of the logs in the computer system of the Joint Staff.
It also maintained that the GSDF had not held on to its own copies, but sources close to the matter said the GSDF was actually in possession of the data until around January.