Use Bitter Lessons from the Past to Protect Japanese Citizens

Fighting has intensified in the northeastern African nation of Sudan, resulting in numerous casualties. The Japanese government should consult with the United Nations and countries concerned, and take every possible step to rescue Japanese nationals there.

The military seized power in Sudan in a 2021 coup. The latest fighting is believed to be the result of a struggle for power between the national army and a paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), both of which have supported the military government.

The fighting appears to have spread throughout Sudan, including the capital city of Khartoum. Attacks and looting targeting ordinary foreign nationals and international organizations are also conspicuous.

Khartoum airport has turned into a war zone, and Western and other countries have been unable to dispatch military aircraft to rescue their own citizens.

Japan, the United States and Europe must work together to hasten the rescue of their people. They need to cooperate with countries surrounding Sudan — such as Egypt, which has influence in Sudan — and heighten their efforts for an immediate ceasefire.

To prevent the fighting from becoming protracted, it will also be essential to strengthen monitoring to ensure that the national army and the RSF are not being supplied with weapons from outside.

Water and food are said to be running short in the war zones in Sudan, and there are frequent power failures. Helping local residents will also be an important issue.

There are about 60 Japanese nationals in Sudan. They belong to such organizations as the Japanese Embassy, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and nongovernmental organizations, and there are also local hires.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has ordered the dispatch of Air Self-Defense Force transport aircraft to Djibouti in eastern Africa to evacuate Japanese nationals in Sudan. The first plane was to depart for Djibouti by the end of the week.

The Self-Defense Forces have a facility in Djibouti that serves as a base for anti-piracy operations. The Defense Ministry said that an ASDF unit will stay there for the time being to determine when it should leave for Sudan, about 1,300 kilometers away.

The Japanese government must take responsible measures to protect the lives and property of its citizens.

Japan has a bitter experience related to the SDF rescue of its people.

When the Islamist Taliban seized control of all of Afghanistan in 2021, the Japanese government took a long time to make a decision and delayed the dispatch of SDF aircraft. As a result, many Japanese and other people had to secure their own means of transportation to escape the country.

The government previously limited the transport of overseas Japanese nationals to cases in which “operations can be implemented safely.” However, based on the lesson learned in Afghanistan, the government last year changed this to situations in which “measures can be taken to avoid danger.”

Nevertheless, it is difficult to enter Sudan under the current circumstances. The rescue of Japanese nationals is expected to be a difficult mission. It is hoped that the ASDF will play its role in cooperation with other countries.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 21, 2023)