At a memorial ceremony in Côte d’Ivoire, the head of United Nations peacekeeping today paid tribute to seven ‘blue helmets’ killed in the line of duty while on patrol in the country’s south-west last week.
The seven peacekeepers, from the Niger Battalion serving with the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), had been patrolling near the village of Para, close to the town of Ta? near the shared border with Liberia, on Friday, 8 June, when they were ambushed by unidentified armed elements.
Part of a larger group, the peacekeepers were deployed in the area in response to concerns about the safety of local residents.
Speaking at the ceremony at UNOCI’s headquarters in Abidjan, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, said the seven ‘blue helmets’ made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of peace.
“The medal which will be given to these valiant soldiers is witness to our immense admiration, esteem and respect for them,” Mr. Ladsous said. “We will one day know what really happened and we hope that those responsible would be apprehended and brought to justice.”
The peacekeeping chief also conveyed the deepest sympathy of Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, whom he said had been deeply shocked by the tragedy.
In his remarks to the ceremony, the head of UNOCI, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, Bert Koenders, said that the seven peacekeepers had not died in anonymity, but had died for the sake of humanity and their spirit and efforts would always remain in the memory of the United Nations.
Also in attendance at the ceremony were Côte d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara, along with the head of the Ivorian Armed Forces and Government officials, as well as Niger’s Minister of Higher Education, Mamadou Youba Diallo. Mr. Youba Diallo said that the death of the seven soldiers will not prevent Niger from honouring its commitment to UNOCI in the search for lasting peace in Côte d’Ivoire.
With the cooperation of the neighbouring UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), UNOCI has launched an investigation into the circumstances of the attack. UNMIL has previously voiced serious concern about the continued instability in the border areas between the two countries.
In a statement issued yesterday, the UN Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire, Doudou Diène, said that the attack has generated thousands of internally displaced persons in Tai and an influx of refugees in UN camps in Liberia.
UNOCI was established in 2004 by the Security Council to facilitate the peace process in the country, which was split by civil war in 2002 into a rebel-held north and Government-controlled south.
The mission, whose current mandate runs until 31 July, is currently tasked with assisting the country tackle the many challenges it faces in the wake of the violence that followed presidential elections in late 2010 and the electoral crisis that finally ended in April 2011. These include the restoration of law and order, national reconciliation, the holding of legislative elections, and economic recovery.