TOKYO — Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada stepped down on Friday, taking responsibility for an alleged cover-up of controversial military reports on Japanese troops deployed in South Sudan as UN peacekeepers.
The resignation is seen as another blow to the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has seen his cabinet’s approval ratings plunge following a series of scandals.
“This issue has given the public an impression that could damage their trust in the governance of the Defence Ministry and Self Defence Forces [the Japanese military],” Inada told a press conference.
Inada has repeatedly denied her role in the alleged cover-up.
“As the defence minister who directs and supervises the Defence Ministry and SDF, I am acutely aware of my responsibility. I have decided to leave the role,” she said.
Abe said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will take over Inada’s role, alongside his own, until the premier reshuffles the cabinet next week.
The Defence Ministry also announced that deputy minister Tetsuro Kuroe and army chief of staff General Toshiya Okabe have also resigned over the scandal.
The ministry’s internal investigation did not turn up evidence of Inada’s involvement in the scandal but concluded that other ministry and defence force officials had violated the law on information disclosure.
The Japanese military’s daily reports in South Sudan are thought to make clear that the peacekeepers face considerable danger in the war-torn country.
South Sudan, which only gained independence six years ago, has been ravaged by a three-and-a-half-year military conflict between Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebels headed by his former deputy Riek Machar.
Tens of thousands have been killed in the violence and 3.5 million people have been displaced.
Inada’s resignation comes amid speculation North Korea would launch another missile, as Pyongyang and Seoul celebrated the anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War on Thursday.
On July 4, North Korea successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) despite international condemnation and calls for dialogue.
Abe, who appointed Inada as Japan’s defence minister a year ago despite her lack of military background, has refused to replace her in recent weeks despite repeated calls from the opposition.
Inada attracted nationalist votes by denying the Japanese military’s Nanjing Massacre in 1937 and wartime sexual slavery.
Japan dispatched its troops to South Sudan in November in the first mission since Abe’s ruling coalition pushed through legislation in 2015 that allows the military to fight in wars overseas for the first time since World War II. Critics argued the changes violate the country’s pacifist constitution.
Article 9 of the constitution prohibits the use of force to settle international disputes.