TOKYO, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday that the country will withdraw its Self-Defense Force from a UN mission in South Sudan by the end of May.
The prime minister said that the withdrawal was due to the African country's "entering a new phase of nation-building."
Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide denied later that the withdrawal was a result of the deteriorating security situation in South Sudan.
Japan has been sending its Ground Self-Defense Force personnel to build infrastructure as part of a U.N. mission in South Sudan since 2012. The African country gained independence from Sudan in 2011.
The mission, however, has been controversial in Japan, as Japanese laws forbid the SDF to operate in areas where combats take place.
Japan's Defense Minister Tomomi Inada has also been under fire for "downplaying" the seriousness of the South Sudan conflict by referring to it as "armed clashes" while daily activity logs of the Japanese troops there mentioned "combats."
The opposition parties demanded Inada to resign over the issue last month, but Inada dismissed the allegation by saying that there was no combat in South Sudan in legal sense even though the logs suggested otherwise.
South Sudan has been mired in crisis since a political face-off between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar erupted into full conflict in December 2013.
Despite the August 2015 peace agreement that formally ended the civil war, fightings continued between the government and opposition forces and conflict and instability kept spreading in the African country.
The UN Security Council called on all parties in South Sudan to immediately stop fighting last month.