On Tuesday, March 9, British Major General Adrian Foster, Deputy Military Adviser for Peacekeeping Operations at the United Nations, praised the three Peruvian peacekeepers that died in 1974 during a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Middle East. Major General Foster’s remarks were made during a ceremony to commemorate the 41st anniversary of this tragic incident in the headquarters of the Peruvian Army in Lima.
The deaths occurred in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab nations, led by Egypt and Syria. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had authorized the creation of a peace force to oversee the separation of the belligerent parties, namely along the borders between Israel and Egypt, and between Israel and Syria. Peruvian peacekeepers were known as the “Batallón Peru” and operated in both theaters, as part of the U.N. Emergency Force II (UNEF II) and the U.N. Disengagement Force (UNDOF), from 1973 until 1975. Sadly, on March 9, 1974, an anti-tank mine exploded during a routine mission, killing three Peruvian military personnel (a corporal and two soldiers) and wounding an additional seven.
Peru first participated in a U.N. peacekeeping mission in 1958, and has continued the tradition to this day. The country is currently involved in various missions across the world, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) and Ivory Coast (UNOCI). According to official U.N. statistics released in January 2015, the Andean country currently has 394 personnel deployed on seven U.N. peace missions, which includes both contingent troops and expert personnel. Its largest current force is the “Compañia Peru,” which operates as part of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). According to the U.N., the Haiti force is comprised of 372 troops. Despite controversy surrounding the mission, its mandate was renewed this past October 2014 for another year. Thus far, there is no discernible interest from Lima to withdraw troops from the Caribbean state.
While U.N. “blue helmets” are meant to be impartial “soldiers of peace,” they are nonetheless targeted by belligerents involved in surrounding conflicts. Case in point: unidentified individuals recently attacked a U.N. base in the northern Malian town of Kidal. “It was a terrorist attack of a very complex nature, in the sense that they used mortars and shells from different locations; from the north and the south of the base,” a U.N. spokesperson told Al Jazeera. The attack killed two Malian children and a Chadian peacekeeper who was part of the U.N. mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This incident demonstrates the need for participating countries to continue supplying troops so that U.N. missions have sufficient personnel to fulfill their mandates, which often pins them against violent movements that do not respect the U.N. peace flag.
During his address in Lima, Major General Foster stated:
We believe Latin America has considerable potential to increase its contributions to peacekeeping, having acquired significant experience in diverse missions. Your decision to deploy to MINUSCA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic] is therefore encouraging, and we hope your sister countries will follow your example.
Indeed, Latin America has become the cornerstone of many U.N. peace missions (i.e., MINUSTAH). While Peru may not contribute major numbers of blue helmets in comparison to neighboring nations such as Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay, its presence is significant. From Lebanon in 1958 and the Middle East in the 1970s, to Haiti from 2004 until today, Peruvian military personnel have participated, and continue to participate, in U.N. worldwide.
(For more information on Peru’s contributions to U.N. peacekeeping operations, see the country profile for Peru at the Providing for Peacekeeping Project’s website.)
Moreover, Peru can boast national stability since the Ecuador-Peru conflict in 1995, as can the majority of Latin America, which has generally enjoyed a period of recent calm. Meaning that Peru — and its neighbors — are well placed to continue extending a hand in international peacekeeping in the aim of restoring peace and stability in other areas of the world.