Japanese Ground Self Defence Force engineers to help South Sudan


The Japanese government will send Ground Self Defence Force (GSDF) engineers to help South Sudan rebuild after its long civil war.

Japanese Deputy Chief Secretary Tsuyoshi Saito earlier this month said that the first batch of GSDF Engineers will be sent to South Sudan early next year. Around 200 personnel are expected to operate in South Sudan.

Saito also indicated that another 300 engineers will be dispatched at later dates since the first batch would evaluate the feasibility and challenges of operations there, the Upper Nile Times reports.

On October 14 an assessment team from the GSDF surveyed Juba International Airport before deciding to deploy engineers. The team, which arrived in South Sudan on October 10, was in the country to assess airports and roads, reliefWeb reports. The survey team also visited Upper Nile State to assess airports and roads in the capital Malakal.

The GSDF engineering unit will help build roads and bridges. With independence on July 9, 2011 after two decades of civil war, the country lacks basic infrastructure. It is totally underdeveloped and has less than 100 km of paved roads.

Saito said that GSDF engineers will use weapons only when they feel their safety is being threatened as their main role will be infrastructure development.

Japan is the second largest contributor to the United Nations peacekeeping budget, after the United States. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is mandated to have 7 000 military personnel. This is the first time Japan has shown interest in sending peacekeepers to the country.

South Sudan became the world’s newest country after voting for independence in a January vote, taking with it three-quarters of the former united country’s roughly 500,000 barrels per day of oil production.

The split left a long list of unresolved issues; including the contested oil-producing Abyei region, how to share oil revenues and other assets, and how to end border violence. Sudan is facing a severe economic crisis and has asked fellow Arab countries for aid to compensate for the loss of oil revenues.

Analysts say South Sudan is in danger of becoming a failed state unless its manages to end tribal and rebel violence that has killed more than 3,000 people this year, according to the United Nations.

Apart from how to divide oil revenues, Abyei is one of the biggest disputes between north and south. Sudan’s armed forces seized the border region in May and says Abyei will stay with the north unless a much-delayed referendum agreed under the 2005 peace agreement decides otherwise.

Decades of civil war have left the South severely underdeveloped but the flow of oil dollars means it has a higher per capita income than many of its African neighbours. It contracted the sale of oil worth US$2.14 billion from July to October, Reuters reports.

Border violence has raised tension between the old civil war foes, with both nations regularly trading accusations of supporting insurgencies in each other’s territory since South Sudan’s secession.

South Sudan last week accused Sudan of supplying artillery to support a cross-border attack by “mercenaries” on its oil-producing Upper Nile state, and called on the United Nations to investigate.

Sudan’s armed forces dismissed the charge and repeated it did not back rebels and had not launched any attacks on South Sudan’s side of the border.

An estimated 2 million people died in Sudan’s decades long civil war.