Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (March 1) - News that Fiji soldiers are likely to be invited to serve in more overseas peacekeeping missions will be greeted with joy.

Multinational Force and Observers director general James Larocco who is on an official visit says some new deployments are likely although these would be confirmed after further talks.

Serving as peacekeepers in war-torn countries is not new for Fiji soldiers. Since 1978, United Nations-sponsored missions have become very much a part of the lives of Fiji soldiers.

They served with the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon and later with the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai. The troops initially served for six-month periods before being rotated. The stints were later extended to 12 months.

There are about 338 Fiji soldiers currently serving in Sinai on a 12-month rotation. At least four changes are done a year.

Fiji soldiers are also serving with the United Nations in Iraq. Fiji police officers are also serving similar roles in other countries.

Fiji soldiers have been highly commended for their professionalism and commitment while working as peacekeepers in volatile situations. More than 30 soldiers died while on those missions in the Middle East, mostly in Lebanon.

There is a likelihood of more deployment or new missions because of rising tension as Israel pulls out of its border checkpoints with Egypt. Fiji soldiers are used to serving in such situations and are most likely to be called upon again by the United Nations when the need arises.

Many Fiji soldiers and their families have benefited from these tours of duty because of the opportunity to save the allowances they are paid by the United Nations, or the financiers of these missions such as the United States of America.

Some used their savings to start family businesses, build new homes, and finance their children's education in tertiary institutions.

The savings went a long way to improving their families' standards of living, especially for the territorial soldiers who went back to the village after each tour of duty

When the troops were withdrawn from Lebanon a few years ago, there seemed to be a big void in the lives of the soldiers and their families because everyone had become used to seeing them make these frequent trips abroad.

For many of them any opportunity to be deployed in similar missions would be most welcome. They understand the risks involved but are mostly keen to serve in these missions. They know the benefits involved.

[PIR editor’s note: The manager of Sabre International – a recruitment firm specializing in military-type employment – said the lack of a back-up to employ demobilized soldiers is one of the problems facing the Fiji government and army (read the story).]

March 2, 2006

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