Hundreds of peacekeepers yesterday returned home after completing a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
A homecoming ceremony was held for 216 returning soldiers yesterday at the Cambodian Military Airbase in Phnom Penh, where they were welcomed by Defence Minister General Tea Banh and UNOPS Cambodia director Hubert Staberhofer.
“I would like to congratulate the Cambodian blue helmets for completing their international mission for peace and humanity,” Gen Banh said. “I would like to take this opportunity to convey the best regards for all peacekeepers currently abroad.”
He noted that he and Prime Minister Hun Sen recognised the peacekeeping achievements of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.
“I would like to acknowledge the UN for recognising Cambodia’s capability and sacrifice for the cause of peace and security […] in order to assist other countries who are suffering due to conflict,” Gen Banh said.
He noted that the number of female peacekeepers is up by 15 percent following a request by the UN to include more women in peacekeeping missions.
“I am highly grateful to all Cambodians for sacrificing your sons and daughters, spouses and loved ones,” he said. “I would like to take this opportunity to pay respect to our deceased officers who sacrificed themselves for the noble causes of peace and humanity.”
Last year, a Cambodian peacekeeper died due to malaria, while in May, four peacekeeping personnel died in the Central African Republic during an attack by Christian insurgents in the southeastern part of the country.
Mr Staberhofer said Cambodia’s peacekeeping commitment is appreciated, adding that peacekeepers have aided the lives of thousands living under hardship.
“I welcome in particular you, the brave Cambodian women peacekeepers,” he said. “It is evident of a positive shift in the armed forces and it clearly demonstrates that gender equality is taken seriously by RCAF.”
“We believe that the urgent drive to bring women at the heart of building peace and security must not stop,” Mr Staberhofer added. “I congratulate you, courageous women in uniform, for your commitment and service to your country and the world.”
General Sem Sovanny, director-general of the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces, said over the last twelve years Cambodian forces have contributed to peacekeeping missions through demining, construction and well-drilling.
“To date, we have deployed a total number of 5,783 personnel, including 277 women, to eight countries in Africa and the Middle East,” Gen Sovanny said. “The peacekeepers have contributed by demining areas and the construction of infrastructure such as a hospital.”
“Cambodian forces have [displayed] the UN [insignia] on their uniforms, becoming a part of the UN family,” Gen Sovanny said. “For every deployment, we share our skills and experiences with other countries enduring conflict.”
Last month, an attack was carried out by armed men on UN peacekeeping forces in central Mali, killing two and injuring five UN peacekeepers from Burkina Faso.
In response, Mr Hun Sen the following day appealed to the UN to pay more attention to the security of Cambodian peacekeepers in Mali.
“It was good luck for our Cambodian troops for not being in danger, but two Burkina Faso soldiers were killed and five were injured,” Mr Hun Sen said. “We have to monitor the situations in the Central African Republic, Mali, Sudan and South Sudan, and Lebanon.”
The UN has ranked Cambodia 29th out of 122 troop-contributing countries, and second among Asean countries for the most female peacekeepers.