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Japanese Troops Arrive in South Sudan with Expanded Role


Japanese peacekeepers arrive at the Juba airport to participate in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in South Sudan's capital Juba, Nov. 21, 2016.

Japanese troops arrived in South Sudan this week to join a United Nations peacekeeping force.

The troops are replacing a group of Japanese peacekeepers who served in the U.N. Mission in South Sudan.

The main job for the 350 Japanese soldiers will be to help build roads or other infrastructure in the country. They are also under orders to use force if needed. The earlier Japanese peacekeepers were not permitted to use force.

Last year, Japan’s government approved legislation to expand the duties of its military members deployed overseas. Under the measure, Japanese troops can use force to protect themselves and other civilians. They are permitted to act on calls for help from people working for U.N. agencies or aid groups.

There are also plans to let the Japanese troops guard U.N. bases. Some bases have been attacked in South Sudan’s civil war.

Japanese peacekeepers arrive at the Juba airport to participate in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in South Sudan's capital Juba, November 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jok Solomun
Japanese peacekeepers arrive at the Juba airport to participate in the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in South Sudan's capital Juba, November 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jok Solomun

Military officials say all the Japanese troops will be in the country by the middle of December. It is the first time that Japanese peacekeeping forces will be permitted to use force while on duty since World War II.

The violence in South Sudan started in December 2013. The clashes are between forces supporting President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former vice president Riek Machar.

The two sides reached a peace deal in 2015. But fighting restarted in July when forces loyal to Machar launched an attack on the presidential palace in Juba, the capital.

The fighting is largely happening along ethnic lines. Tens of thousands of people have been killed. The war has damaged South Sudan’s economy and created a humanitarian crisis. More than 2 million people have been displaced, and nearly 5 million are believed to be lacking necessary food.

There are more than 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers in South Sudan. The U.N. mission there has faced criticism for failing to protect civilians. In July, two Chinese peacekeepers died and five others were wounded after their vehicle was attacked in Juba.

Critics of Japan’s deployment say the move violates the country's anti-war constitution. Some fear the new powers permitting troops to use force could bring Japan’s military into overseas conflicts.

In this file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reviews Japanese Self-Defense Forces' (SDF) troops during the annual SDF ceremony at Asaka Base, Japan, Oct. 23, 2016.
In this file photo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reviews Japanese Self-Defense Forces' (SDF) troops during the annual SDF ceremony at Asaka Base, Japan, Oct. 23, 2016.

But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has argued that the broader mandate gives Japan the ability to respond to growing regional threats.

Abe spoke about the new duties of Japanese troops during an appearance with a parliamentary committee earlier this year. “South Sudan cannot assure its peace and stability on its own and for that very reason, a U.N. peacekeeping operation is being conducted,” he said.

Abe added that the Japanese forces will be “carrying out activities that only it can do in a tough environment.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn adapted this story for VOA Learning English. His report was based on information from VOANews.com, the Associated Press and Reuters. George Grow was the editor.

What do you think about Japan's decision to give its peacekeeping troops the ability to use force while on duty in South Sudan? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

mandate – n. official order to do something

infrastructure – n. structures such as roads, ports and energy plants needed for society to operate

regional adj. relating to a particular area of the world

tough adj. difficult, not easily done

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