Peacekeepers from Malaysia serving under the United Nations flag in Lebanon face a “a totally new experience” according to the commander of the Malaysian contingent in the country.
Currently, 850 military personnel, including 38 women, are deployed to the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.
Malaysian peacekeepers have been stationed in the eastern Mediterranean country since January 2007, and a total of 10,840 men and women have served there.
“We assist in the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces and conduct training in support of the Government of Lebanon exercising its authority in the UNIFIL area of operation,” said Colonel Azhan bin Hj Md Othman, the commander of the contingent. “The Malaysian presence in Lebanon is important in implementing UNIFIL’s mandate and in ensuring stability in south Lebanon.”
UNIFIL was created by the United Nations Security Council in March 1978 to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security and assist the Lebanese Government in restoring its authority in the area.
The role of UNIFIL has evolved in line with developments in the region and the mission now also monitors the cessation of hostilities, accompanies and supports the Lebanese Armed Forces and helps to ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations as well as the voluntary and safe return of displaced people.
Overall, there are some 10,300 peacekeepers serving in the mission, including the Malaysian troops. These peacekeepers, who work alongside the Lebanese Army and host communities, have helped to ensure that the area, roughly 10 times the size of Paris, has enjoyed nearly 13 years of peace.
Wisdom and tolerance
“There are challenges for our troops,” according to Colonel Azhan. “It’s important we maintain our credibility and legitimacy by remaining impartial throughout our operations as we continue our cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces. Consolidating our relationship with local leaders and civilians is also a key part of our mission here and must be carried out with meticulous thinking, wisdom and tolerance.”
Of the 38 women presently on mission in Lebanon, four are officers and the remainder come from other ranks. “Women in the Malaysian contingent play a significant role especially in conducting certain activities such as market walks and medical support for local communities,” says Colonel Azhan. “They are also involved in operational activities such as foot and vehicle patrols.”
“The presence of women during these activities is definitely helpful in gaining the trust and confidence of the local female population towards UN peacekeepers. The women and girls from the host communities are comfortable with the Malaysian female peacekeepers due to our background and their respect for the local culture and religion.”
Troops sent by Malaysia to UNIFIL generally spend one year in Lebanon. The next rotation is in September 2019.
“Serving under the UN Flag is a totally new experience for me and my troops. A lot of preparation is carried out ahead of our deployment. Promoting peace and conducting peacekeeping operations away from the homeland is very challenging and demanding. We are truly very proud to serve our country and the United Nations,” adds Colonel Azhan.
A total of four Malaysian peacekeepers have lost their lives since 2007 while on mission with UNIFIL.