Armed forces

Liberia Bids Adieu to Female Peacekeeping Contingent from India

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President Sirleaf of Liberia saying goodbye to the Indian peacekeepers in Monrovia. Credit: UNMIL Photo/Emmanuel

The first all-female police unit in the history of UN peacekeeping, which had been drawn from the Rapid Action Force of the the Central Reserve Police Force and deployed with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in 2007 has completed its mission. It is about to leave the country as Liberia gets ready to assume full responsibility for national security amidst the ongoing UNMIL drawdown.

But the role of Indian peacekeepers in Liberia is not about to end just yet. India is now preparing to deploy about 140 male troops drawn from the paramilitary Sashastra Seema Bal for rendering special police combat and security duties under the UN in Liberia. This would be the first time that a unit of the force – normally involved in border duties – would be deployed on such a mission.

The UNMIL was set up in September 2003 to “support the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the peace process, protect United Nations staff, facilities and civilians, support humanitarian and human rights activities as well as assist in national security reform, including national police training and formation of a new, restructured military.”

As India celebrated its Republic Day,  Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the UN Secretary General’s special representative  Farid Zarif bid farewell to the Indian Formed Police Unit (FPU). They lauded its role in ensuring peace in Liberia. Incidentally, India also happens to be among the top contributors of peacekeepers to the United Nations.

President Sirleaf, who was closely guarded by this FPU over the past nine years, underlined the contribution of the force in “inspiring Liberian women, imparting in them the spirit of professionalism and encouraging them to join operations that protect the nation”. She noted that the Liberian security service now has 17 per cent women. “We owe all that to you, because it was not even one per cent a few years ago. And these women want to emulate you in the way you’ve served this country,” she said.

Zarif said the unit serving as part of the Indian peacekeeping mission “made a tremendous contribution by bringing greater stability, confidence and assisting in the strengthening of the capacities of the Liberia National Police.”

He said the force also contributed to community affairs, by providing training in the areas of first aid, HIV/AIDS, self-defence and even teaching the art of Indian dance and music in some of the communities with which it interacted.

“You have also reached out to the orphans, at Hebron Orphanage; under your patronage you provided support and assistance there. You also reached out to schools, and the Victory Chapel School in Congo Town was also under your patronage. When you are long gone, the memories that you will be leaving behind will be remembered and fondly cherished by both the people of Liberia as well as your colleagues within the United Nations.”

Through the nearly nine years that the force was deployed in Liberia, the women peacekeepers were drawn from the three battalions of the RAF by rotation. Before they left for Liberia, they were trained about the polity and security conditions of West Afric at the CRPF training camp in Delhi. The decision to send the unit to Liberia was taken as the country had been torn apart by 14 years of civil war.

At a time when child soldiers and sex crimes had become rampant in this African nation, the all-woman force had imparted a sense of security to the women.

The unit, which usually had about a 100 women soldiers, with about 25 male support staff in the form of drivers, mechanics and cooks, had also actively guarded the President’s Office during the period.
It also played a crucial role in ensuring conduct of elections in Liberia which were coordinated by the United Nations and Liberian government.

In a television interview, one of the former Commandants of the force, Poonam Gupta, had noted that it was through their discipline and focus on the job at hand that the all-woman unit had demonstrated that women can perform the security duties as well as the men.

India is now preparing to deploy about 140 paramilitary male troops drawn from the Sashastra Seema Bal for rendering special police combat and security duties under the UN in Liberia. This would be the first time that a unit of the force involved in border duties would be deployed on such a mission.