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Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011

SDF could help build S. Sudan: U.N.


NEW YORK — Edmond Mulet, assistant chief for U.N. peacekeeping operations, believes Japan could make a major contribution to South Sudan's nation-building efforts by dispatching Ground Self-Defense Force personnel to the world's newest country.

News photo
SDF solicited: Edmond Mulet, U.N. assistant secretary general for peacekeeping operations, speaks in an interview at his office in New York on Oct. 7. KYODO

"If Japan considers deploying an engineering unit to South Sudan, I think that would make an enormous difference for the people of South Sudan and help the U.N. implement our mandate (in the country) on the ground," Mulet said in a recent interview at his office in New York.

South Sudan, which became the 193rd member state of the United Nations when it declared independence in July, faces tremendous challenges as a new and severely "underdeveloped" nation that lacks even the most basic infrastructure, Mulet said.

"I think the South Sudanese deserve such support right now because their nation has just been born and we have to help them as much as we can," he said, citing fundamental needs such as roads and bridges, as well as communications systems.

As the second-largest contributor to the U.N.'s peacekeeping budget after the United States, Japan is considering sending 350 GSDF troops, including 300 engineers, to South Sudan by March.

The unit could be based in the capital, Juba, where it would focus on road and bridge construction projects, government sources said.

Mulet conceded that the work would be challenging given the country's size and lack of basic necessities, but was optimistic about the role the GSDF unit could play.

"Their presence will certainly make a difference there," he said.

Self-Defense Forces engineers have previously participated in U.N. peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, East Timor and Haiti.

During the interview, Mulet recalled the crucial role played by SDF engineers in Haiti after a massive earthquake struck in January 2010, killing about 300,000 people.

Mulet, who served as head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, said he was impressed with Japan's quick response to that disaster.

Japan was the first nation to reply to a U.N. Security Council request for an increase in troop numbers already carrying out a mission in the country, and SDF engineers arrived just three weeks later.

Operating out of Port-au-Prince, the SDF unit worked on various projects around the country, including rebuilding a major roadway from the Dominican Republic that served as a lifeline, clearing rubble from public buildings and schools, and setting up mobile clinics after a dangerous cholera outbreak.

"The work that the Japanese engineering unit did there saved lives, it was really fantastic," Mulet said, adding how "extremely flexible" the group was and how willing the engineers were to perform all kinds of tasks.

"The Japanese unit (was willing to help out) at all times."

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