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First UN female force commander takes reigns in Cyprus

First UN female force commander takes reigns in Cyprus


Major-General Kristin Lund signing the hand-over document with outgoing Major General Chao Liu at the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus headquarters. Photo: UNFICYP

11 August 2014

Major General Kristin Lund today officially assumed her duties as Force Commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus where the top UN official, Lisa Buttenheim, is also a woman. That UN operation is now the first in the world to have a dual female leadership.

At a brief ceremony held in the UN Protected Area in Nicosia, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ms. Buttenheim, thanked Major General Lund’s predecessor, Major General Chao Liu, a Chinese national who served from February 2011. The Special Representative paid tribute to his “dedication, professionalism and leadership which greater contributed to United Nations efforts on the island.”

The Security Council established the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), which marked its 50th anniversary in March, in 1964 to contribute to a return to normal conditions following violence and bloodshed between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.

In Cyprus, Major General Lund is commanding a force which over the years has rotated through more than 150,000 troops. UN troops supervise the de facto cease fire lines established in 1974, and maintain control over the buffer zone dividing the island. Despite the general calm, UNFICYP records on average about 1,000 incidents in the buffer zone every year.

“It’s hard to believe there is a place where you can go and have a beautiful day vacation, [but] has mine fields that are not cleared yet,” Major General Lund had told the UN News Centre back in May. At that time, the Major General said she would prepare for her position by analyzing the Mission mandate to see what type of activities she could do in support of the Mission and SRSG Buttenheim.

In addition to its military activities, UNFICYP also undertakes humanitarian activities and supports the good offices mission of the Secretary-General, according to its website.

“When you approach a challenge in a country, such as Cyprus, it’s important also that you represent – because there are so many men force commanders – the other 50 per cent of the population in the world,” Major General Lund had said.

“I think it’s very important that the UN took this step to appoint a female force commander and I hope that I can be a role model for other female officers that see that it’s possible.”

The Norwegian Major General has had a distinguished military career, according to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson, with over 34 years of military command and staff experience at national and international levels.

“The first time you are out is often, in a way, what sits for a long time in your mind,” the Major General said about her deployment to Lebanon with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in 1986 as a transport officer.

“I was on a vehicle where we had 50 calibre, we had a machine gun and I was sitting behind the machine gun,” she said describing an escort mission to pick up new soldiers. After shooting broke out, the vehicle took an alternative route and ended up in an area where it was not supposed to be.

“The way to handle it was actually through communication, through building trust at the check points. And I think that was the first time I realized why it is so important for the UN to always use minimal force and as a last resort,” she continued.

Her deployment in the Balkans, where between 1992 and 1993 she served with the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia and later with the NATO-led force, was what “formed me as a leader because you have to play like an orchestra” [to cope] with the various military components and the people involved in the conflict.

“You learn how important the mandate is,” she said, referring to the responsibilities tasked to the Mission by the 15-member UN Security Council. “You see the importance of not taking sides.”

Bosnia was also the first deployment where the Major General experienced real violence.

“It’s not normal that you see people get killed. You get used to seeing scenes that you, as a military, in a way, prepare for, but you don’t actually hope to get involved. But there you saw the whole spectra,” she recalled in her interview with the UN News Centre.

Major General Lund also served in the Middle East during the first Gulf War in 1991 and in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from 2003 to 2004.

Ms. Lund rejoins the Organization as the UN Department of Peacekeeping is spearheading a modernization campaign in its missions “to do more with less,” at the request of the Secretary-General and the resource-contributing Member States.

“Communication is vital,” said Maj Gen Lund, who led the 56,000-strong Norwegian Home Guard during its modernization. “When you are changing a huge organization, everyone needs to know the end stage, where are we going, because if you are [making] changes and you don’t have all the layers with you, it will take a very long time.”

She was appointed Norway’s first female General in 2009, having taken deputy command of the country’s armed forces in 2007. Her most recent position was head of Veteran Affairs on the Norwegian Defence Staff.

A motorcycle aficionado, Ms. Lund has decided against taking her beloved Harley to Cyprus.

“I’m quite into Harley-Davidson, that’s my favourite, but I don’t think I will take a bike. I will see if I can borrow or buy a bike there because [mine is] a collector’s item.”

ENDS

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