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By Reijeli Kikau

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Aug. 30) - Thirty-four Fiji soldiers leave our shores for war-torn Iraq today in response to an urgent request from the United Nations.

The men will be stationed at Bechtel as part of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).

Military spokesman Major Neumi Leweni said the soldiers would join the 134 Fiji soldiers serving in Iraq.

"The soldiers will be divided between Baghdad and Uril when they arrive in Iraq," he said.

Yesterday, Cabinet approved the additional deployment, which would be effective from August 30, 2006.

In a statement, Cabinet said the decision was based on a submission by the Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration Josefa Vosanibola.

Vosanibola explained that some United Nations staff who were formally accommodated at the Rasheed Hotel had been relocated to the Bechtel Camp.

"The urgency to this deployment, therefore, is critical," he said.

Vosanibola said the soldiers' role would be to guard e international staff in Iraq. He said the camp was located in the International Zone and the soldiers would be exposed to the same level of risks that they were facing there.

He added that the UN continued to seek Fiji's assistance in providing force guard units for UNAMI since it felt secure and safe in the confidence, consistency and the dedication with which Fiji soldiers carry out their task on a mission.

Vosanibola said the military had indicated that the contingent earmarked for Basra and had been in training were the ones deployed to Bechtel.

He said the costs pertaining to the deployment would be met by next year's army budget.

When Leweni was asked about the deployment budget, he refused to elaborate on the matter.

Cabinet also approved the deployment of a Lieutenant Colonel and a Major to the United Nations Office in Timor Leste, (UNOTIL).

This was based on a request by the United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations (UNDPKO) to nominate two officers of those ranks to be deployed as military liaison officers to Timor Leste with effect from August 21, 2006 to August 20, next year.

Meanwhile, Cabinet has approved the establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee on peace operations, which would deliberate on all matters pertaining to peace operations that Fiji will be engaged in.

Vosanibola explained that the sub-committee would review government policies with political and socio-economic implication of peacekeeping at any point in time whether long or short-term missions.

"It will recommend ways to strengthen Fiji's peacekeeping duties and at the same time gain maximum benefit out of each mission and measures to foster the development and internationalization of Fiji's peacekeeping reputation.

"It will further recommend ways to upgrade and build a knowledge-based peacekeeping force that will expand Fiji's foreign polices."

Vosanibola said the sub-committee would also assess the social, political impact and economic viability of each operation and mission.

Leweni said they had not been invited to be part of the committee but believes senior members of the military should be included.

August 31, 2006

Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com .

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