The government on Tuesday announced a plan to send several hundred Ground Self-Defense Force engineers to South Sudan next year as part of a U.N. peacekeeping operation. The GSDF has started procuring materials and equipment for its mission in South Sudan, which became Africa’s 54th independent country in July, seceding from Sudan after many years of civil war. It is hoped that the GSDF will contribute to the improvement of infrastructure, which the country badly needs.

The GSDF engineers will be sent to South Sudan’s capital Juba and its adjacent areas. Early next year, an advance party of several GSDF members will be sent. The first unit of some 200 engineer troops will be sent in February and March, and start work in April before the rainy season sets in. The second unit of some 320 engineer troops will arrive in and after April.

The GSDF members will construct roads and bridges. Because infrastructure has hardly been developed in South Sudan, the GSDF units may have to stay there for about five years.

The government at first planned to send materials and equipment to Mombasa port in Kenya by ships, and then send them from there to Juba by land vehicles over a distance of 2,000 km. Since customs procedures in Mombasa and land transportation were expected to take about a month each, the government eventually decided to send materials and equipment to Juba via Entebbe, Uganda, by chartered aircraft.

In late October, armed antigovernment groups attacked government forces and citizens and caused many casualties in the northern part of South Sudan, about 500 km from Juba. A United Nations official explains that there is no civil war or military conflict in South Sudan and that the GSDF units have no need to use weapons because peacekeeping units from other countries will deal with armed groups.

But the government and the GSDF cannot be too careful in ensuring the safety of GSDF peacekeepers and in protecting them from endemic diseases such as malaria and typhoid.

There are calls for relaxing Japan’s principle for peacekeeping operations, which strictly limits the use of weapons by Self-Defense Forces members. The government should not forget that the SDF’s peacekeeping operations have earned international praise because they have faithfully followed the principle of non-combat. It should keep it in tact.

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