Onodera apologises a second time over missing troop logs

TOKYO • Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera yesterday apologised for the second time this week for the discovery of activity logs of Japan's troops in Iraq, the existence of which his ministry had previously denied.

The apology follows an earlier scandal over supposedly missing logs showing troops were in the presence of major fighting in South Sudan.

Mr Onodera yesterday said he plans to find out why the daily activity logs of Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force (GSDF) members during a mission in Iraq could not be found during a search of the Ground Staff Office last year, national broadcaster NHK reported.

The Defence Ministry on Monday said 14,000 pages of records - covering 376 days from 2004 to 2006 - were found in the office. The records were discovered when the ministry was conducting an internal probe into another set of records of Japanese peacekeeping troops in South Sudan, which sparked a controversy that led to the resignation of Mr Onodera's predecessor Tomomi Inada last July.

Japan sent about 5,500 GSDF personnel to Iraq from January 2004 to July 2006, to provide water and medical aid, and help repair infrastructure in Samawah in southern Iraq.

Until Monday, Japan's Defence Ministry had maintained that the records no longer existed. The ministry on Feb 16 last year said the logs on Iraq did not exist. Four days later, Ms Inada said the ministry was unable to find logs in Iraq, in response to questions by lawmakers.

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera ( above) yesterday said he plans to find out why the daily activity logs of Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force members during a mission in Iraq could not be found during a search of the Ground Staff Office last year, national broadcaster NHK reported.

Speaking to reporters on Monday about that incident, Mr Onodera said: "I feel sorry we could not appropriately respond to questions in the Diet."

Mr Onodera was notified about the Iraq troop records last Saturday, more than two months after they were first found in January.

The cover-up started when the Defence Ministry turned down freedom of information requests made in July and October 2016 for access to the activity logs, with the GSDF claiming they no longer existed.

Evidence suggests someone later ordered the logs to be destroyed, the Nikkei Asian Review reported. The records, which were released eventually, indicate major fighting occurred in South Sudan's capital Juba, while the troops were in the country.

As Japanese troops are allowed to engage in peacekeeping operations only when a ceasefire is in place, the ministry was probably concerned that the information would up-end the basic premise of the troops' mission in the country, the Nikkei Asian Review reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline 'Onodera apologises a second time over missing troop logs'. Print Edition | Subscribe