Fiji Army heading to Syria border

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 13:46 10/06/2013

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While other peacekeeping nations are fleeing the Syria border, Fijian soldiers are to go in wearing United Nation's peacekeeper helmets.

The UN has had peacekeepers, including eight New Zealanders, on the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel since 1974. But as soldiers now face kidnapping and being shot at in the Syrian civil war, contributing nations are pulling out.

Fiji Military Forces Land Force Commander Colonel Mosese Tikoitoga has told state radio the Fiji military regime is talking to the UN while preparing 163 military and health personnel UN Disengagement Observer Force.

Ever since military commander Voreqe Bainimarama staged a democracy ending military coup in 2006, New Zealand and others have urged the UN not to use Fijians in peacekeeping roles.

But as the latest negotiations show, they are willing to go where no one else will.

Fiji could have as many as 300 soldiers on the Golan by later this year.

Austria last week said it was pulling out its 377 soldiers and Croatia has already gone.

New Zealand is considering withdraw but has yet to make a decision.

Tikoitoga says a departure date has yet to be decided.

Fiji currently has a unit in Iraq providing security services for the UN as well as forces in the Sinai monitoring the Egypt-Israel border.

A Golan 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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- © Fairfax NZ News

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