Prime Minister's Address to the Nation on Troop Deployment to the Syrian Golan Heights
My fellow Fijians,
I want to speak to you directly tonight about our contribution to United Nations peacekeeping efforts and the 182 Fijian soldiers who are about to leave our shores for the Middle East.
It was wonderful to see the reception they received in Suva today as they marched through the capital. Etched on their faces was the pride, determination and commitment that we are certain will carry them through the mission ahead.
That task will be a difficult one - to keep the peace in the Golan Heights that separates Israel and Syria. For four decades, the United Nations has been responsible for managing the state of peace there. But because of the increased potential for peace to be threatened in the Golan Heights due to the internal political upheaval in Syria, the UN has called for more peacekeepers and Fiji has answered that call.
Let me be clear with you. Potentially, this may be a more dangerous deployment than other UN peacekeeping missions. Already, certain countries have withdrawn their troops. But let me also be clear: our troops are prepared for this mission. They have the leadership, training, discipline and attitude they need to see them through.
Some of you may be wondering why our soldiers are going in when others are pulling out. As your Prime Minister and Commander of the RFMF, let me say this:
Answering the call to restore peace for the protection of innocent men, women and children is the most honourable task a soldier can perform. Fijian soldiers have a proud history of responding to UN requests for assistance and we will continue to do so.
When the UN asks us to help its peacekeeping efforts, Fiji says “yes” because of our commitment to be good global citizens.
As a nation, we punch above our weight and have done so in the cause of peace in World War Two, Malaya and successive UN deployments – in Lebanon, Iraq, Sinai, Kosovo and East Timor, Sudan, Bouganville and the Solomon Islands. We have earned the gratitude and respect of both the international community and ordinary people in those places in which we’ve served.
We are building a new and better Fiji and have big ambitions for ourselves as a nation. Naturally, we also want to help create a better world for everyone and these deployments are part of that vision.
We have told the United Nations that we are willing to provide up to 500 soldiers for this mission - if they are needed - and will consider requests for more. We appreciate that the UN has been so fulsome in its praise and thanks for our commitment.
Our partnership in global peacekeeping goes back 35 years. As in the past, our troops will wear the blue helmet of the UN with pride. But I ask every Fijian tonight to keep them in their thoughts and prayers as they carry out their mission. We especially pray for their safe return.
May God bless our soldiers and God Bless Fiji.