Around 40 soldiers from Unit 11 of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), who participated in the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan, have returned home to Japan.
This brings an end to almost five years of Japan’s involvement in peace-keeping operations (PKO), beginning with the November 2011 dispatch of command division personnel under the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration.
In this PKO, the fact that the final SDF troops dispatched were the first to be given a “security escort” mission and the issue of peacekeeping logs being destroyed, has garnered attention.
However, the almost 4,000 personnel who carried out road and facility maintenance and repair, as well as vocational training, have been highly praised by the local population.
Speaking in February, Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of South Sudan, was very complimentary, saying “We are grateful for the continued support [of the GSDF] shown to the government and people of South Sudan, and praise them highly.”
It was the largest scale PKO in Japan’s history, with dispatched troops carrying out 210-km of road repairs and 500,000 square meter of site creation work.
In a video released by the Defence Ministry, the voices of the locals are audible.
Speaking with respect to the repairs carried out on the road connecting the capital, Juba, with Kota, a Juba woman said: “In the wet season transport was especially difficult, so this is a great help. I am so happy.”
A local policeman said: “The transport system has become easier, it is such a great benefit. We are grateful to the GSDF.”
A certificate of appreciation was awarded to the dispatched troops from the University of Juba. Colonel Jiro Tanaka, head of the engineering division dispatched to South Sudan, gave the following statement:
“We are truly honored to receive a certificate of appreciation from the Juba University. However, it is not ours alone. We share it with the students who worked with us to move the stones when we were carrying out road works.”
The local population helped the GSDF.
Toshio Matsubara reports on these emotional stories in the Government of Japan’s Highlighting Japan E-Magazine (February 2016).
According to Lieutenant General Masaaki Nakamura, stationed in South Sudan from November 2003 to June 2004, one day a local man made a request, “Please allow me to help, I don’t need any remuneration.”
When asked why he wanted to help, the man said that he and his neighbors “were extremely grateful for the efforts of the Japanese. Our skin color is different, but the same blood runs through our veins. That is why I want to help.”
He added: “The Japanese always greet us with a smile. That is why it is easy to tell if they are Japanese, it makes a good impression. And so, that is why I have come to feel like I want to help.”
He worked together with the GSDF troops for eight days.
Lieutenant General Nakamura added: “The first PKO that the SDF was involved in was Cambodia, and even now Cambodians have a deep sense of gratitude toward Japan. Even now, in the United Nations Camp at the hospital run by the Cambodian PKO troops, there is a strong connection between the Cambodian and Japanese troops.”
Twenty-five years ago, after a banal debate that it was illegal for the SDF to carry weapons, the first PKO of Japan was dispatched to Cambodia. The results have been encouraging in South Sudan.
Journalist Kazuhiko Inoue was born in Shiga Prefecture in 1963. He graduated from Hosei University, and developed expertise in military security, foreign policy issues, and modern history. Nicknamed the “Military Maven,” he is also a writing member of the Sankei Shimbun Column “Seiron” (Sound Opinion), and the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals Planning.
He is the winner of the 17th Seiron-Shinpu (Innovative Sound Opinion) Award. Among his major published works are: We are grateful that Japan fought for us (Sankei Shimbun Press), Great East Japan Earthquake: Struggles of the SDF (Futaba Press), The Super Shooters are Alive! (Shogakkan Press).
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)