National / Politics

GSDF's South Sudan logs had notices indicating they should be handled with 'caution': Defense Ministry

Kyodo, JIJI

Activity logs from a Ground Self-Defense Force peacekeeping mission to South Sudan included notices that said the records should be handled with “caution,” the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

The revelation follows the discovery of a new set of records from the South Sudan mission that the ministry previously said didn’t exist. Several cases of SDF logs from overseas missions being discovered — despite claims that they didn’t exist — have rocked the ministry.

A day after the ministry admitted to the latest in a series of missteps over the handling of official information, it disclosed further details about the daily reports that covered over a year of activities by GSDF members during the U.N. mission.

The notices saved with the digitalized reports indicate that some officials at the ministry recognized them as containing sensitive information.

The logs were at the ministry’s Defense Intelligence Headquarters, Onodera told a meeting of the Upper House Audit Committee on Monday, in response to a question by Kaneshige Wakamatsu, a member of Komeito — the ruling coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party.

The GSDF troops were withdrawn from South Sudan in May last year after completing a five-year operation in the conflict-torn country.

The newly found reports include the daily logs for July 7 to July 12, 2016, the disclosure of which had been requested, according to Onodera. The ministry had previously said the documents for that period, when renewed fighting broke out in the African country’s capital Juba, did not exist.

“We can’t help but think that the ministry’s response was inappropriate,” Onodera said. “I offer my apologies again as defense minister.”

The logs were found following a fresh investigation ordered by Onodera on Saturday, as the ministry faces criticism over a recent revelation that GSDF members failed to divulge possession of logs from a mission in Iraq for around a year despite requests from opposition party lawmakers to do so.

Onodera told a session of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Upper House on Tuesday that the GSDF’s failure to make the logs’ existence known is serious and that he will take steps to ensure that the country’s armed forces are under strict civilian control.

Japan has attached utmost importance to ensuring control of the SDF through civilian politicians due to bitter memories of Imperial Japanese Army intervention in politics and its role in military aggression in periods before and during World War II.

In the past, SDF activities have often come under scrutiny because of the country’s postwar pacifist Constitution, which strictly restricts their operations.

At the committee meeting, Wakamatsu urged Onodera to take measures — including a possible revision of public records laws — to prevent a recurrence of similar problems.

In making the request, Wakamatsu cited the recent discovery of daily activity reports on the GSDF’s 2004-2006 mission in Iraq, the existence of which had also been denied by the ministry, and the Finance Ministry’s falsification of documents related to a controversial deep discount sale of government land to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen.

During the same committee meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed that the government will fully review the way public documents are kept, including a possible legal amendment. Abe also referred to the possibility of revamping related organizations.

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