• Kyodo

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The Ground Self-Defense Force personnel in South Sudan are likely to begin returning to Japan later this month, ending their five-year deployment for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the fledgling African country, government officials said Friday.

The 350-member GSDF unit has been building roads and other infrastructure. Dozens are expected to leave the capital Juba on April 17 and return to Japan on April 19, the officials said. The unit will return in stages through the end of May.

The pullout will render Japan a nonparticipant in active U.N. peacekeeping missions. The government is expected to explore other ways to contribute to international peace-building efforts that would involve use of the Self-Defense Forces.

The government has said it will continue to contribute to U.N. efforts in South Sudan by extending the stay of four GSDF officers stations at the mission’s headquarters.

The GSDF civil engineering unit first deployed to South Sudan in January 2012, after it gained independence from Sudan in 2011, making it the world’s newest country.

The current GSDF contingent, which arrived in December, was assigned the new task of armed rescues under the Abe administration’s new security laws, which ease restrictions on SDF activities abroad imposed by pacifist Article 9 of the Constitution.

The new roles allow the SDF to rescue U.N. staff and other personnel if they come under attack and make an urgent request for help. The unit has not conducted any rescues yet.

The Defense Ministry said Thursday that a 50-member unit will leave Japan for South Sudan on Monday to assist with the withdrawal.

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