No vetting for Fiji peacekeepers

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 11:35 19/06/2013

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Fiji peacekeeping soldiers posted to the Golan Heights will not be vetted for human rights abuses or involvement in military coups, a United Nations watchdog organisation says.

Fiji is sending 170 soldiers to the heights between civil war-torn Syria and Israel.

They will replace 377 Austrian troops in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has monitored a ceasefire between Israel and Syria since 1974. Croatia has also pulled out after its troops came under Syrian rebel fire.

The Fijians will join 341 troops from the Philippines and 193 troops from India. Eight New Zealanders also serve in the area with another UN operation.

New Zealand and Australia have been pressing the UN since Fiji's 2006 military coup to stop using Fijian soldiers as peacekeepers.

But, because few nations have been willing to provide the numbers that Fiji has, the only action the UN has taken is to vet Fijian soldiers.

Officers who had joined Commodore Frank Bainimarama's coup have previously been banned from UN service, as have soldiers accused of human rights abuses, including the deaths of coup opponents.

But the New York based Inner City Press, which monitors the UN, reports today that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has waived a previous restriction on using troops from post-coup Fiji.

DPKO says it is entirely up to Fiji to vet its own troops for "violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law".

Inner City Press said a UN spokesman told it that the Fiji regime will do its own checking.

"It is the responsibility of the government of the Republic of Fiji, as with all troop-contributing countries, to ensure that its personnel have not been convicted of, are currently under investigation for, or being prosecuted for any criminal offence, including violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law," the spokesman said.

The new Fiji deployment represents a substantial boost for the still isolated Bainimarama regime, and a failure for New Zealand trying to stop Fiji from earning peacekeeping income with the UN.

A Golan Heights deployment will be a return to the neighbourhood for the Fijians, who from 1978 to 2002 provided 15,000 soldiers for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. Thirty-five Fijians were killed in that service.

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