Monday, March 05, 2007

Indian Army aviators head for Congo on UN deployment

Mar 5 2007 Malaysia Sun (IANS) report:
Seventy Indian Army aviators leave here Sunday for the Congo for deployment as UN peacekeepers in the country's restive Katanga province on what has been described as a 'dangerous and important' mission.

'You are going on a dangerous and important mission. It is important for you to maintain high standards of discipline and professionalism,' Lt. Gen. K.S. Jamwal, who heads the Indian Army's Kolkata-based Eastern Command, said at the flagging off ceremony of the contingent here Monday.

'It is a matter of pride that you should have been chosen for this challenging assignment,' he added.

Jamwal is the colonel commandant of the Army Aviation Corps to which the 12 officers, six junior commissioned officers, and 52 other ranks of the Congo-bound ninth (Independent) Reconnaissance and Observation Flight belong.

'We have a heavy responsibility on our shoulders. It will be our endeavour to give of our best,' the contingent commander, Lt. Col. G.S. Sheokand, told IANS.

The contingent, which will operate four Cheetah light helicopters, will replace a similar number of personnel who have been serving in the Congo for the last six months. It will be under the command of the 301 Infantry Brigade that also includes three army battalions and an Indian Air Force element of about a dozen Mi-17 and Mi-35 attack helicopters.

'We will be operating in close coordination with the IAF on reconnaissance and observation. We will also serve as the pathfinders for the air force attack helicopters if the situation warrants that they go into action,' Sheokand said of the mission.

Unlike UN peacekeeping operations in other hotspots of the world, the Congo deployment is termed a chapter seven mission under the UN charter. This means the troops are authorised to go into action if the situation so warrants.

The other deployments are termed chapter six missions, meaning that the troops can open fire only in self-defence.

Currently, some 9,000 armed forces personnel serve worldwide under the UN flag. Of them, 8,265, including 26 women, are from the Indian Army, and 500 are from the Indian Air Force.

Of the army troops, 3,707 serve in the Congo, 2,385 in Sudan, 971 in Ethiopia/Eritrea, 835 in Lebanon, and 172 on the Golan Heights. This apart, the army has also deployed 169 officers and observers at different UN missions.

In addition, 125 women troopers of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been deployed in Liberia.

India's involvement in UN peacekeeping operations began in 1950, when a brigade was deployed to enforce an armistice on the Korean peninsula. Since then, India has contributed 85,000 soldiers for 43 missions worldwide, but the current deployment is the largest at any given time.

India is the third largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions after Bangladesh and Pakistan.