Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu on Thursday morning ordered the SDF to deploy aircraft to its base in nearby Djibouti — an action that will take place as early as this weekend. Ministry officials say three transport aircraft are being arranged for the dispatch.
Fierce fighting continues in Sudan between the military, which took power in a coup in 2021, and a paramilitary group.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu on Wednesday said the government has begun preparations to evacuate about 60 Japanese nationals from Sudan.
Government officials believe it will be difficult to immediately enter Sudan due to heavy fighting in the capital Khartoum, where the international airport is located.
The SDF will remain on standby in Djibouti while officials determine what transportation and routes to use.
A Djibouti-based SDF unit engaged in anti-piracy activities is preparing to take part if necessary.
A struggling transition to civilian rule
The Sudanese military toppled the 30-year autocratic government of President Omar al-Bashir in a 2019 coup following mass protests. Pro-democracy activists in Sudan called for a swift transfer of power to a civilian government.
Sudan's ruling military council and the main opposition coalition signed a constitutional declaration that was expected to pave the way for a transition to civilian rule.
Under newly appointed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, a prominent economist, civilian and military leaders worked together in an interim government.
In 2020, authorities and several rebel groups signed a peace deal aimed at resolving decades of conflict. The United States also removed Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
But the cabinet was forced to dissolve when the military launched a coup again in October 2021 and seized power. Under coup leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the military opened fire on protestors who took to the streets in response to calls from pro-democracy activists.
Since then, negotiations to restore civilian rule have continued with the support of the United Nations and other countries. But they have been opposed by paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces, which differs on how it should be reintegrated into the regular armed forces.
Clashes have erupted between the two sides since Saturday, causing casualties and damage mainly in the capital Khartoum, and raising the risk of a nationwide civil war.
Expert says power struggle fueled clash
An expert on modern politics in Sudan says a power struggle in the transition to democracy has triggered the fighting between the military and paramilitary group RSF.
"In the process of fully integrating the military and the RSF, I think they have disagreed on points such as which side will assume the top post of the combined force," says Chiba University Professor Kurita Yoshiko.
She says the clashes between the two sides will remove citizens from the political arena, which could halt the country's transition to democracy.
Kurita says the international community, including Japan, must take action to avoid this outcome.
Ceasefire agreement fails again
Heavy fighting continues even after a ceasefire agreement was announced between the military and the RSF.
Local media reported that the military and the RSF had agreed on a 24-hour ceasefire that was supposed to begin Wednesday afternoon. They said the two sides had cited humanitarian reasons for the agreement.
But gunfire continued to be heard, indicating that the ceasefire had failed — a fate shared by a previous agreement on Tuesday.
UN to take part in virtual meeting on Sudan
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to discuss the situation with the African Union, the Arab League and other organizations on Thursday.
"The continued heavy fighting in Sudan is having devastating consequences for Sudanese civilians as well as our staff and other members of the international community who are caught in the crossfire," the UN chief's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday.
"We reiterate to the parties to the conflict that they must respect international law."
Countries evacuate their citizens from Sudan
Reuters reports Egypt evacuated 177 Egyptian Air Force troops that had been held in the northern Sudanese town of Merowe by the RSF. The troops were reportedly in Sudan to participate in joint air force exercises.
German news magazine Der Spiegel reports Germany's military also tried to evacuate about 150 of its citizens from Sudan, but fighting in the capital forced it to halt the mission.
Meanwhile, when asked on Tuesday if there were plans to evacuate US embassy personnel from Sudan, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "American should have no expectations of a US government-coordinated evacuation at this time. We expect that will remain the case."
SDF to form 370-member task force
The top uniformed officer of Japan's Self-Defense Forces says the SDF will form a 370-member task force to evacuate Japanese nationals from Sudan. Yoshida Yoshihide says five members will be sent as early as Thursday to conduct a preliminary investigation.
Members of the Ground and Air Self-Defense Forces will make up the unit. Some will operate from Japan.
At a press conference on Thursday, Yoshida called the situation in Sudan "extremely severe and fluid," and said he would gather information and assess it accordingly.
Asked if an overland evacuation was a possibility, Yoshida said he didn't know what kind of mission it would be yet.
NPO head in Khartoum kept hearing gunshots
A Japanese national who lives in the capital Khartoum spoke with NHK online on Wednesday and said he kept hearing gunshots outside his house.
Kawahara Naoyuki heads a nonprofit organization that has been providing medical and educational support to residents of Sudan since 2006.
He said he had secured enough food and water to shelter at home for a month.
Kawahara said he is grateful Japan has started preparing to evacuate its nationals from Sudan.
"Considering the fighting, I don't think I can leave the country on my own. I am committed to supporting Sudan, but I would like to evacuate for now to ensure the safety of my staff and myself."