The first Japan Ground Self Defence Force (GSDF) personnel have arrived in South Sudan ahead of a larger deployment to assist South Sudan rebuild after its long civil war.
Thirty-four GSDF troops departed Narita airport on Saturday. Twenty-three of the personnel, including a 13-member engineering team, arrived in South Sudan’s capital Juba on Sunday while the remaining 11 went to Uganda, which shares a border with South Sudan.
The GSDF team is tasked with receiving equipment and supplies that will be delivered to sustain Japanese peacekeeping operations in South Sudan.
In November Japanese Deputy Chief Secretary Tsuyoshi Saito said that the first batch of GSDF Engineers would be sent to South Sudan early this year. Japan plans to send 210 GSDF troops to South Sudan by the end of March in order to build infrastructure, although actual engineering work will start in April, according to Mainichi Daily News. By June the first unit will be replaced by a second batch of around 330 personnel.
The deployment marks the Self Defence Force’s ninth participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Japan first dispatched engineering troops to Cambodia in 1992.
On October 14 last year 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.
An estimated 2 million people died in Sudan’s 22 year long civil war.