June 18, 2013

New war zone for Fijians

Torika Tokalau
Monday, June 17, 2013

FORMER UN peacekeeper Ratu Peni Volavola has called on citizens to pray for the Fiji military and medical personnel who will be joining the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in one of the world's most volatile war zones.

Mr Volavola, president of the Returned Soldiers and Ex-servicemen's Association of Fiji, served with the Fiji battalion in Lebanon under the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) from 1983 to 1984.

He said during Fiji's service with UNIFIL, they faced a number of hostile situations at the buffer zone established in Lebanon, towards the border with Israel.

On the Syrian border with Israel, where UNDOF is serving, the threat is different with Syrian troops chasing down rebels who flee across the border of a country that defeated Syria to take control of Golan Heights in 1976.

"Under the rule of engagement of UNIFIL, the guiding principle was the use of minimum force. We had to stop the infiltration of arms coming from Lebanon to the border of Israel into Northern Israel and hostile situations were a daily occurrence," Ratu Peni said.

He said when faced with a hostile situation, UN peacekeepers had to negotiate first and make the opposition see reasons as to why they were there.

In a conflict situation, unlike with the military where they try to win a firefight, a UNIFIL peacekeeper couldn't fire his weapon unless the first shot was fired by hostile parties.

"You had to wait until they, hostile parties, started firing. It was a difficult situation, you couldn't really do much. And even when firing when you were fired at, you had to justify your actions with the use of minimum force," Ratu Peni said.

"It isn't like what military personnel are taught in terms of engaging in military warfare where combat is against known enemies. In peacekeeping, you don't really know who the enemy is. You are mixing around with civilians with the uniform that identifies you as a UN peacekeeper but you can't quite identify who the enemy is. And the enemy is who you are trying to control in terms of their movement."

Fiji paid the price with the lives of 34 soldiers between 1978 and 2002.

"The only thing we can do for them is to remember them in our prayers, them and their families."

No comments: