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Two-year-old Mosese Baleiwai refuses to let go of his grandfather, Private Mitieli Driso, as soldiers were farewelled in Suva yesterday on their way to the Golan Heights.Picture: JONE LUVENITOGA
THERE was joy, heartbreak and worry as families and friends farewelled loved ones headed to the Israeli-Syria border to keep the peace and help stop an all-out war.
Under an overcast sky and a drizzle that reflected their emotions at Albert Park in Suva yesterday, hundreds of people gathered to show their support for their fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, mothers and sisters who have been deployed as part of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on a peacekeeping mission to the Golan Heights in the Middle East.
President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau saluted and bid them goodbye, warning of the volatile grounds they were flying to in the buffer zone erected by the UN in 1974.
Croatian, Japanese and Austrian peacekeepers at the Golan Heights, annexed by Israel in 1981, left after facing escalating violence spilling over from the Syrian civil conflict.
Saraswati, 47, travelled from Labasa and stood proud as her son, Private Raginesh Narayan, marched past to fill that void.
The emotional mother of three said although her son's achievement brought happiness to her family, they also knew his life would be at risk.
"I don't know whether I should be happy or sad because deep inside me, I know that that place is not safe," she said as she wept.
As the 182-member contingent made the final journey around the park yesterday, Mrs Saraswati buried her face with her hands and wept.
"He is a hardworking boy and I know he will do his best wherever he may go."
The troops fly out of Nadi today.
Families followed their loved ones to the Flea Market from where they boarded buses and trucks. A daughter followed her father with a video camera until he left.
President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau reminded the soldiers that they would be in a volatile area.
"The situation calls for dedication, teamwork and courage and the highest level of discipline both regimental and personal. You will be working with colleagues from around the world and interacting with the local population within a highly demanding security situation where daily, your professionalism will be put to the test."