By: The Mainichi
TOKYO (Kyodo) — A Self-Defense Forces aircraft left for Djibouti on Friday to prepare to evacuate Japanese nationals from Sudan, where military clashes are intensifying.
The C-130 transport airplane departed from Komaki Air Base in the central prefecture of Aichi to stand by in Djibouti to extricate 63 Japanese citizens in Sudan, most of whom are in the capital Khartoum.
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told a press conference that a C-2 transport aircraft and a KC-767 aerial refueling plane are also expected to leave Japan for Djibouti as soon as they are ready.
Relevant ministries and agencies will “work together to secure the safety” of Japanese nationals, he said.
In 2011, the SDF set up a base in Djibouti, a tiny country in the Horn of Africa about 1,200 kilometers southeast of Khartoum, as part of an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia.
Hamada indicated the government might also try to evacuate Japanese citizens by land.
With fighting escalating in Sudan, it remains unclear when the planes will head to the East African country. The conflict has left more than 400 people dead and 3,500 others injured, according to the World Health Organization.
Fighting between two rival factions, the Sudanese armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, has triggered a closure of Khartoum International Airport, making it difficult for foreign people to leave the country.
Following Hamada’s instruction on Thursday to dispatch SDF aircraft, the Defense Ministry sent five liaison officers to Djibouti, while forming a joint task force consisting of around 370 personnel from the Ground and Air Self-Defense forces.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno has said the government has kept in touch with all of the Japanese living in Sudan, adding that no injuries have been reported so far.
In a related move, Hamada has decided to cancel his planned visit to Australia in May to focus on dealing with the situation related to Sudan, a government source said.
His decision came as the search also continues for missing SDF members following a helicopter crash in waters near Miyako Island, Okinawa Prefecture, earlier this month.
He was scheduled to meet with his Australian counterpart Richard Marles to discuss the expansion of the two countries’ joint exercises and response to China’s maritime assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.