Japan defence chief Tomomi Inada cancels South Sudan trip after reaction to anti-malarial drug

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 6:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 September, 2016, 6:10pm

Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada has cancelled her visit to South Sudan on Saturday due to an allergic reaction to anti-malarial medication, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

Inada left Japan for the United States early on Thursday for talks with US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter the same day. She had planned to fly to South Sudan to inspect the Self-Defence Forces engaging in building roads and other infrastructure in UN peacekeeping operations.

Japan is preparing to send its next batch of troops to the fledgling African country in November to replace the current unit, while attention is growing that they could be assigned to new, and possibly riskier, roles under the country’s security legislation that came into force in March.

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Inada was supposed to assess the situation as part of the process to decide whether to give the expanded assignments to the next unit, which is expected to be comprised mainly of members of the Ground Self-Defence Force’s 5th Infantry Regiment.

But the defence minister has developed hives in what is believed to be an allergic reaction to antimalarial medication, according to ministry officials.

Although the symptoms have eased, she was forced to cancel the trip to South Sudan because the medicine she was prescribed may have weakened her immune system, they said. SDF members take the same anti-malarial medication before going to South Sudan.

Under the new security legislation, SDF members are now able to engage in missions to rescue UN staff and others under attack and to jointly defend peacekeepers’ camps with troops from other nations during UN peacekeeping operations.

Defence Ministry sources said on Thursday that GSDF troops have begun substantial training for the two scenarios, which have become possible because they have been given more leeway in their use of weapons.

Japan’s official role in the UN mission in South Sudan began in 2012 a year after the African country gained independence from Sudan. It is currently the only UN peacekeeping operation Japan’s SDF members are taking part in.