Fiji will send its first contingent of troops to join a U.N. peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights Wednesday, on a mission Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama described as difficult and potentially dangerous.
Bainimarama said 182 troops would depart the Pacific island nation to replace soldiers that several countries have withdrawn from the peacekeeping force because of spillover from the Syrian conflict.
“Potentially this may be a more dangerous deployment than other U.N. peacekeeping missions,” he said in a televised national address late Tuesday.
“Already certain countries have withdrawn their troops. But let me be clear, our troops are prepared for this mission, they have the leadership, training, discipline and attitude needed to see them through.”
Japan and Croatia have pulled their troops from the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) amid increased violence stemming from the Syrian civil war, while the Philippines has refused to commit its soldiers beyond August.
Bainimarama said the 182 troops were the first of a force of about 500 that Fiji had offered to the U.N. and his government would consider sending more if requested.
“Some of you may be wondering why the soldiers are going in when others are pulling out... answering the call to restore peace for the protection of innocent men, women and children is the most honorable task a soldier can perform,” he said.
Bainimarama, Fiji’s military leader, who seized power in a 2006 coup, said his country had a proud history of contributing to U.N. peacekeeping missions dating back 35 years.
“The U.N. has called for more peacekeepers and Fiji has answered that call,” he said, urging all Fijians to pray for the troops’ safe return.
U.N. peacekeepers have been monitoring a ceasefire between Syria and Israel in the Golan since 1974, but violence has escalated as the Syrian conflict spills over into the area.