TOKYO: Japan will end its only international peacekeeping mission in May amid charges that the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe covered up evidence of deteriorating security in areas where Japanese soldiers were stationed.
The 350 Japanese soldiers are part of a peacekeeping mission to protect South Sudanese civilians from the results of a civil war between two contenders for the South Sudanese presidency.
Abe’s government asserted that the troops were coming home because they had fulfilled their mission, and he mentioned the number of roads that the engineering troops had repaired and other similar projects.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga explained that the areas where the troops are stationed were stable and “relatively safe” from the effects of the civil war.
Official logs, however, seemed to contradict this sunny view.
They noted that the fighting in the South Sudanese capital of Juba had flared up last summer when hundreds of civilians were killed.
Under long-standing Japanese law, its troops are not supposed to be sent into areas where there is conflict. The mission is meant to keep the peace, not help one side or the other.
The troops were also the first ones dispatched under a controversial new security law passed in 2014.
It allows the troops to be armed and, if necessary, to come to the aid of other peacekeepers if they come under attack.
Abe has maintained that the soldiers were perfectly safe in their missions and that he would resign if even one Japanese soldier were killed on the mission.
There is no evidence that the soldiers have had cause to exercise their new rights.
Questions have been raised in parliament about what happened to the Abe administration’s daily activity logs describing conditions and actions.
Then in October a Japanese journalist requested that the ministry disclose the activity logs of Japanese troops in South Sudan. The ministry at first denied the request saying that the logs had been destroyed.
Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada then explained that it took time to actually find the logs in question.
The search was allegedly thwarted by senior civil servants, which raised questions whether Inada had a strong grip on her portfolio.
This is the second time that Inada has been embroiled in controversy in the past few weeks.
Opposition MPs called for her resignation when she was linked to a separate scandal involving an ultra-right wing school in Osaka.
She first told parliament that she and her lawyer husband had no connection with the Moritomo Gakuan school. Then she had to admit that she had forgotten that her husband had done some legal work for Moritomo executive Yusamori Kagoike.
She and Abe’s wife, Akie, have been accused of giving money to Kagoike. Both of them deny the allegations. Nevertheless, the opposition is calling on Inada to resign.
Abe has been described as the “Teflon” premier, meaning nothing sticks to him. But now his government is embroiled in two scandals, both of which involve a senior cabinet member often thought to be Abe’s eventual successor.