NZDF Withdrawals from Mozambique and Sierra Leone
Long and successful New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) contributions to Mozambique and Sierra Leone come to an end this week. The last two remaining New Zealand military personnel in the African nations will be withdrawn today.
The NZDF has been a valuable member of the demining programme in Mozambique with twenty-six members of the Defence Force serving there since 1993.
In Sierra Leone the NZDF has contributed twenty-eight peacekeepers since 1998 as part of UN Missions to monitor security.
The withdrawal of NZDF personnel signifies milestones reached by both countries.
The Mozambique Government has now wholly taken over the Accelerated De-mining Programme, while in Sierra Leone the security situation has stabilised enough to allow the UN Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone to withdrawal by the end of 2005.
Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, Major General Lou Gardiner says the professionalism of the NZDF personnel who have served in Mozambique and Sierra Leone has been outstanding
“Over the years their ability to quickly adjust to sometimes a hostile environment and provide support to the United Nations has been tremendous,” said Major General Gardiner.
“This is in line with the other 19 missions where New Zealand Defence Force Personnel are deployed around the world's trouble spots, from Afghanistan through the Middle East and Europe to the East Timor and Solomon Islands." He said.
Background Information - Mozambique
Thousands of landmines were laid in Mozambique in the 1970’s when guerrilla warfare erupted following the withdrawal of Portugal. Mozambique’s boarders were heavily mined, as were irrigation schemes and rice and sugar mills.
In December 1992 the United Nations established the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ). One of the most important humanitarian tasks facing ONUMOZ was the establishment of a de-mining programme to deal with the landmines, which had killed or wounded as many as 15 thousand people.
In 1993 in response to a request from the United Nations New Zealand undertook to send two army mine clearance experts to assist in establishing a de-mining programme in Mozambique.
The two New Zealanders were deployed in February 1994 and were based at the Mine Clearance Training Centre. They were responsible for preparing the course programme and training packages.
During 1994 the United Nations became increasingly concerned about the state of the de-mining programme and turned to New Zealand for help. New Zealand agreed in June 1994 to provide an officer to command the programme, a staff officer and seven mine clearance training instructors. A headquarters for the de-mining programme was set up in Maputo, as was an accelerated training programme to increase substantially the number of de-miners being trained.
Twenty-Five NZDF personnel have served in Mozambique since 1994. Lieutenant Colonial Peter Curran, the last remaining member of the NZDF in Mozambique has been in the African nation since January 2004.
Background Information – Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone gained its independence from Britain in 1961, and since then has had numerous coups and power struggles.
The West African nation holds a significant amount of the word’s rutile resources, a key ingredient in paint. It also has an abundant supply of bauxite, diamonds, gold and nickel. An uneven distribution of wealth led to unrest and the Sierra Leone Army, feeling it was suffering most, staged a coup in 1997.
A year later the UN Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) began. The mission was designed to monitor the security situation in Sierra Leone and the disarmament/demobilisation of the former combatants. New Zealand initially deployed eight Military Observers.
Towards the end of 1998 the security situation in Sierra Leone deteriorated and on the morning of 6 January 1999 Rebel forces attacked the capital, Freetown. UN vehicles became targets and all remaining UN personnel were ordered to evacuate.
Among them, was New Zealander, Lieutenant Colonel John Dyer, who at the time was the Chief Logistics Officer to the Mission. Throughout the day he traversed the city with the Chief Military Observer to ensure all UN personnel were accounted for. At one stage Lieutenant Colonel Dyer and his vehicles came under fire while rescuing a group of UN observers who had been trapped in the Mission HQ. Lieutenant Colonel Dyer was later awarded the New Zealand Gallantry Decoration for his actions.
During that period 112 military and civilian UN personnel were safely withdrawn from Sierra Leone. In October 1999 the mandate was changed to account for the increasing risk of civil war. UNAMSIL (United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone) was established.
The NZDF’s current commitment since the change of mandate has been one military observer, based out of Freetown.
Last year the Government of Sierra Leone formally assumed responsibility for security throughout the country and UNAMSIL is set to close down at the end of 2005.
Twenty-eight NZDF personnel have served in Sierra Leone since 1998.