The government said Friday it has extended the dispatch of four Self-Defense Forces members to the headquarters of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan through May 31 next year.

Japan ended its five-year deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force civil engineering units to the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, or UNMISS, in 2017. But it has kept SDF members stationed at UNMISS headquarters since 2011, the year the mission was established.

"We believe the current role of the SDF members is very important and is praised internationally," said Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, adding that Japan will continue to participate actively in international peacekeeping operations.

SDF activities overseas have been restricted under Japan's war-renouncing Constitution. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has expanded the role of the SDF abroad through security legislation that took effect in 2016, but sending troops to areas where they could get drawn into fighting remains controversial.

No SDF unit is serving in active U.N. missions now, following the withdrawal of GSDF troops from the civil war-torn African country by May last year.