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GSDF involved in PKO activities in S. Sudan used term 'combat' in daily reports

The Ministry of Defense on Feb. 7 released daily reports prepared on July 11 and 12, 2016 by the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) unit taking part in U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKO) in South Sudan, on which the term "combat" appears several times -- revealing the gap between the reports and explanations given by the government on the situation in the African country.

The GSDF unit used the expression "combat" multiple times in the daily reports and GSDF troops in Japan that received the reports had said, "A fierce combat has been confirmed." The daily reports show the situation in which the GSDF unit in South Sudan was assuming the possible suspension of its U.N.-backed peacekeeping activities. But at news conferences and elsewhere, government officials at that time toned down the term by using the expression "multiple shooting cases," raising questions about whether the government was accurately reflecting the actual situation in the area.

The PKO Cooperation Law provides for five principles of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF)'s participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations such as the conclusion of a ceasefire agreement between warring parties. The government at that time decided to continue to dispatch GSDF troops to South Sudan, stating, "We don't consider that an armed conflict has occurred, and we don't think that the anti-government side is a warring party, either."

The July 11 report said that a "combat is happening" between the government and anti-government forces. Furthermore, the GSDF unit reported, "We need to be careful about being caught up in stray bullets from exchanges of fire around the encampment or a sudden combat in the city." There is also a description of concerns over possible attacks from government forces, with a line stating, "We continue to be careful about attacks by the SPLA (the Sudan People's Liberation Army) against U.N. facilities." A July 12 report written by the GSDF's Central Readiness Force based on the July 11 report also stated, "Tensions continue as a fierce combat using tanks and mortar shells has been confirmed." But then Defense Minister Gen Nakatani did not use the expression "combat" at news conferences. Instead, he repeated, "Multiple shooting cases have occurred."

When a freelance journalist demanded the release of the daily reports through a freedom-of-information request, the Defense Ministry refused, explaining that it had already "disposed" of them. But on Feb. 6, 2017, the ministry acknowledged that the electronic version of the reports remained and on the following day released partly redacted reports. The Defense Ministry then announced that its in-house rule on report-keeping has been changed and it now keeps daily reports for at least six months. In the past, the ministry had disposed of such reports as needed within less than a year from when they were drawn up.

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