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Media Center > Speeches > HE PRESIDENT JIOJI KONROTE STATEMENT ON THE FIJI-UN 40TH ANNIVERSARY ON PEACEKEEPING

HE PRESIDENT JIOJI KONROTE STATEMENT ON THE FIJI-UN 40TH ANNIVERSARY ON PEACEKEEPING

6/9/2018
It is my great honour to reflect on Fiji’s contribution to peacekeeping today. I do this as your President, as the Commander in Chief of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF), as a former soldier and as a Peacekeeper.

FIJI AS A PEACEKEEPING NATION

From the very birth of the nation, Fijian statesmen developed a military strategy, which was subsequently broadened to include two fundamentally interconnected elements: contributing to international peace and security and supporting nation building.

Fiji’s first Prime Minister, the Honourable Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, and Fiji’s first indigenous Commander of the RFMF, Colonel Paul Manueli, planned to develop the military into a Professional Army that could deliver benefits to the international community and the nation through its participation in United Nations and International/Regional sponsored Peacekeeping and Peace Support Operations. The execution of this plan took years and did not begin in earnest until Fiji deployed 500 troops to Lebanon exactly 40 years ago this month.

The military that the founding fathers inherited at independence was a small under-equipped garrison force primarily responsible for internal security and defence. Generations of policymakers and military commanders methodically shaped the RFMF into a Professional Army that is also capable of making a substantial and effective contribution to the international requirements to maintain World Peace.

The size, shape and organisation of the RFMF reflects its primary role of maintaining the integrity and security of Fiji as an Independent Sovereign State and at the same time maintain its secondary capability of committing a modest and effective element for Peacekeeping duties.

Every time the RFMF expanded in size was a direct response to requests for peacekeeping starting from 1978 with the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to 2013 with the United Nations Disengagement and Observers Force (UNDOF). At any given time, most of the RFMF were either deployed or preparing to be sent to replace those already overseas. The purchase of equipment was directly related to the demands of peacekeeping from small arms, soldiers’ equipment and tents in 1978 to communications technological electronics to Bushmaster Armoured Vehicles in 2017.

Finally, the RFMF was further structured to allow for raising, deploying and replenishing Battalion sized forces on distant peacekeeping missions.

The only significant area that did not reflect the peacekeeping focus was the doctrine of how to fight wars. The RFMF remains focused on war-fighting and producing soldiers to do so. This approach was supplemented by training focused on peacekeeping. The philosophy being that the best peacekeepers have to be able to defend themselves and civilian populations.

This tireless work by Fiji’s founding fathers and soldiers contributed directly to the peace and prosperity that we see today and also contributed to Fiji’s high international standing. The bright future we see today was not preordained. It came of tireless dedication leadership of generations of statesmen, many of whom had also been soldiers and peacekeepers.

THE SACRIFICE OF PEACEKEEPERS

Our international reputation and present prosperity also came at great loss. More than 60 Fijian peacekeepers have lost their lives upholding the values of toleration and reconciliation embodied in the United Nations Charter. Considering Fiji’s small population, this represents one of the largest per capita losses of life amongst all peacekeeping nations. These 60 Fijian peacekeepers do not get to enjoy the fruits of their labour, and their loss was acutely felt by their families and the nation.

So in this 40th anniversary year we should reflect on these sons of Fiji who left our shores with such open hearts and never returned. Lest we forget their sacrifice. Lest we forget their path-breaking contribution to the nation.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9.

Many more soldiers have suffered injury and hardship while deployed in the name of the nation and we should also remember their service and sacrifice. Theirs is a noble vision, to protect the innocent from violence. They prevent the escalation of violence that destroys families and communities and destabilises countries. Their exemplary service has directly contributed to the reputation of Fijian forces as effective soldiers and excellent peacekeepers. We should be proud of their sacrifice and service.

THE SERVICE OF PRESENT PEACEKEEPERS

Currently Fiji has 882 peacekeepers, involving the Republic of Fiji Military Force, the Fiji Police Force and the Fiji Corrections Service, deployed on eight missions overseas.

Fijian peacekeepers are currently deployed to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Syria, at (UNDOF HQ), the United Nations Mission South Sudan (UNMISS), the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Egypt/Sinai, the United Nations Assistance Mission Iraq (UNAMI), the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL), and the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in Jerusalem. Fijian forces have also been deployed closer to home in operations such as the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

Fiji has one of the world’s smallest militaries and this commitment represents a significant contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security. In fact, at any given time half of Fiji’s military is either deployed overseas or training to replace those deployed overseas.

Present soldiers are all too aware of the legacy that they have to uphold and it is good to share with the public in this 40th Anniversary year.

The reputation of Fiji’s peacekeepers is based on the highest standards of professionalism and honour. Fiji’s peacekeepers are emissaries for the nation and just as with our diplomatic corps, they need to strive for the highest standards of discipline and personal ethics.

THE IMPACT OF PEACEKEEPING ON THE NATION

The second element of Fiji’s Peacekeeping strategy relates to how nation building benefits have been localised from international to national and village levels.

From the very beginning Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara realised that Peacekeeping could also have significant benefits for nation building. The context of the creation of the RFMF’s Peacekeeping capabilities in the 1970s is important. The context included excess labour supply, especially amongst young men, skills shortages in strategic areas, especially skills needed for development, and high expectations about what the new government could deliver.

The involvement of RFMF in Peacekeeping operations provided significant local benefits that addressed some of the key challenges the government was facing. Key benefits included employment and labour mobility, skills development and transfer to local communities, producing the leaders of tomorrow, and military remittances.

Most importantly, the benefits of peacekeeping grew over time and had a direct impact on building Fiji from the village to the nation.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY

Many of you may be surprised by some of the facts you have read in this article and this is because as a nation we have not recorded much of our history well. It is our responsibility to document our history for posterity.

We also need to remember those who sacrificed their lives and did not get to see the fruits of their labour for the nation.

Finally, we need to celebrate the veterans who served in often dangerous and challenging circumstances and to encourage the next generation of peacekeepers to step forward.

Therefore, in the weeklong programme, we will be celebrating Fiji’s achievements in peacekeeping through events across the country. This is a celebration of Fiji’s international citizenship and nation building and I strongly encourage you all to attend.
 
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