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Kiwi UN Military Observers Valued

30 August 2012

Kiwi UN Military Observers Valued

The returning New Zealand Defence Force personnel who deployed to the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) say New Zealand’s contribution to United Nations missions is valued.

The NZ Defence Force has a strong relationship with the United Nations, supporting these types of deployments, and is a valued international partner committed to a multilateral UN approach to peace and security.

In May this year six personnel deployed at short notice following New Zealand’s response to an urgent request from the UN to support UNSMIS. Three Kiwi Observers were withdrawn from the mission in late July following the reduction of UN Observers.

Two Kiwis were based at UN team site Deir ez Zor, five hours north east of Damascus. Major Liam Jones says their role was to conduct patrols to monitor the UN mandate.

“There were 20 to 30 personnel in our UN team site, all from a range of nations –Egypt, Morocco, the Philippines, Fiji, Chad and Togo, and Finland. Despite the mix of nationalities, we were a solid team and we all got on well together.”

During their two month deployment to Deir ez Zor, the team investigated a number of incidents and reported attacks on villages. “It was our job to gather the information so it could be passed back to the UN headquarters. We conducted a number of village visits and met with key people.

“When we went out to the villages, we would be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people, all wanting to tell us their story.

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“Later on when we were confined to the city, we visited hospitals, the local prison, met with key government officials, and helped to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid,” adds Maj Jones.

Senior National Officer, Colonel Angela Fitzsimons, was based in the UN headquarters in Damascus along with two other Kiwis. “Although it was a difficult mission, it was a positive experience working in UNSMIS in the integrated civilian/military headquarters, with the opportunity to work with and learn about the cultures of other nations and gain an understanding of the Syrian people.”

Also in the headquarters, Air Force Squadron Leader Brett Goodall was responsible for pulling together the reporting which was coming out of the various team sites. “I consolidated the regional reporting, and provided reports back to the UN Headquarters in New York on a regular basis.”

Squadron Leader Goodall has previously deployed to the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in Southern Lebanon, Israel and Syria, and says they were completely different deployments and environments. “UNTSO is a long established mission, and not in conflict. With UNSMIS being a new mission, it was very much a challenging environment.

“Being based in Damascus was like deploying to any other Middle Eastern city. But suddenly it all changed, just before I came back to New Zealand. The shops were all closed, there was hardly anyone out on the streets and you could hear firing close by during the day.”

ENDS

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