TOKYO, March 24 (Xinhua) -- Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Friday ordered Japan's Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to withdraw from a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in South Sudan by the end of May.
Following a meeting of senior defense ministry officials, Inada made the announcement saying that a milestone had been reached and the SDF personnel taking part in the UN peacekeeping activities had been highly regarded by UN and the government of South Sudan.
Inada said the ministry is making preparations for the SDF troops to pull out, adding that their safe return is now of utmost importance.
The government has said it planned to pull its troops out of South Sudan earlier this month, amid controversy regarding the expansion of the forces' operational scope.
Legal groups and scholars believed the forces' expanded mandate contravenes Japan's pacifist Constitution.
Inada in February came under scrutiny for possibly diluting the severity of the security situation in South Sudan and in doing so allowing Japanese troops to stay there.
Opposition lawmakers at that time accused the government of attempting to hide the real situation in South Sudan and accused Inada of not using the term "fighting" as that would have required the Japanese troops to be withdrawn.
Inada and the Defense Ministry were in hot water previously in February as the ministry said it had found the daily activity logs of the troops stationed there having previously stated that they had been lost completely.
The opposition camp said the defense ministry had tried to intentionally conceal the potentially damaging records of the troop's activities during a time when 270 people died in fighting between government forces and rebels in Juba, between July 7 and 12, 2016.
In the recovered logs, the troops said they must be "careful about getting drawn into sudden fighting in the city." The record also refers to the possible "suspension of UN activities amid intensifying clashes in Juba."
In November last year the government controversially assigned SDF members in South Sudan a new role, amid heated debate as to whether their responsibilities should be expanded further to come to the aid of peacekeepers and other non-combatants if they are under attack.
Japan has deployed engineers to South Sudan since 2012 as part of the UN infrastructure-building mission there.