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Indonesia aims to boost blue helmet tradition

Following the establishment of the Indonesian Peacekeeping Center, Indonesia aims to contribute more of its peacekeepers across the world’s conflict zones. Nani Afrida and Novan Iman Santosa of The Jakarta Post compiled the following reports.

Peacekeepers all over the world, known for their distinctive blue helmets, just recently celebrated the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers on May 29.

Among the Indonesian peacekeepers who once served under the UN flag is Corp. Tego Sutrisno. He was a chief private back then and a member of the Kontingen Garuda (Konga) XIV/C, under the command of Lt. Col. Anwar Ende. The zeni (engineering) battalion served under the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“That was a proud moment for me, representing Indonesia in Bosnia. Along with 599 other soldiers from different platoons, we had been trained for almost a year before leaving for Bosnia to maintain peace in the war zone,” Tego told The Jakarta Post recently at the 13th Engineering Battalion headquarters in Lenteng Agung, South Jakarta.

Indonesia should share Tego’s pride, given that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is currently the only former blue helmet who leads a country.

“President Yudhoyono, you are the only state leader in the world who has served as a UN peacekeeper. I deeply respect your experience,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during a visit to the Indonesian Peacekeeping Center (IPC) in Sentul, West Java, on March 20.

IPC is one of seven facilities in a facility called the Indonesian Peace and Security Center (IPSC). The other facilities include the Indonesian Defense University, a base for the peacekeeping standby force, counter-terrorism training, disaster relief training, a language laboratory and military sports facilities.

Yudhoyono, a brigadier general at the time, was chief military observer under UNPROFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995–1996 as well as the Indonesian contingent leader of military observers.

Way before Bosnia, Indonesian peacekeepers were first deployed in 1957 to Egypt as the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) I. Led by Lt. Col. Hartoyo, the first Konga consisted of 599 personnel who were recruited from units under the Diponegoro and Brawijaya divisions.

Another Indonesian, former Maj. Gen. Rais Abin, was the UNEF II force commander from December 1977 until troops withdrew in September 1979. This is another historical feat of which Indonesians can be proud.

Many might question why Indonesia sent a contingent of peacekeepers during its early years following independence. One needs only to look at the preamble of the 1945 Constitution, which mandates that Indonesia be directly involved in maintaining the world’s peace and order.

More recently, Law No. 34/2004 on the Indonesian Military (TNI) stipulates that peacekeeping is one of the TNI’s main duties in military operations other than war.

Brig. Gen. Imam Edy Mulyono, the chief of the Peacekeeping Center, also known here as the PMPP, said that Indonesia is aiming to send around 4,000 personnel to become one of the 10 largest troop-contributing countries by 2014.

“As the TNI primarily maintains Indonesia’s sovereignty, it doesn’t have many operations to do here. On the other hand, they must hone and maintain their skills as professional military [personnel],” he said, adding that by joining more peacekeeping missions, the TNI would be able to put its training into practice and gain additional skills and experience.

Edy said he was glad that Indonesia’s lawmakers and authorities now understood the importance of overseas peacekeeping missions.

However, he acknowledged several obstacles in sending more peacekeepers. “We expect to have a standby fund, which will be used as and when it is needed.”

Based on its vast previous experience, the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO) often requests that more peacekeepers be deployed at any given time.

However, budgetary allocations for peacekeeping missions are usually prepared annually, which means that much-needed new deployments have to be postponed, and wait for new funding allocations in the following year’s budget.

“The postponement can sometimes last one full year, which is quite difficult for us in preparing new peacekeepers,” Imam said.

As of May 31, 2012, the UN website lists 16 peacekeeping operations bringing the total number of operations since 1948 to 67. There is also a special peace operation, directed by the DPKO; namely, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The website also shows that currently, Indonesia has deployed 169 police officers, 35 UN military experts on mission and 1,698 troops, totaling 1,902 peacekeepers in eight missions, mostly in Africa and the Middle East.

This ranks Indonesia as 16th among 117 contributing countries, with a combined total of 99,118 peacekeepers worldwide.

Actually, the UN is winding down its international peacekeeping operations as most conflicts have been resolved.

Following a review of the missions, UN under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations, Hervé Ladsus said, “We concluded that we’ll be downsizing some of them: in Haiti, where we are returning to the pre-earthquake level; in some African missions; and in Timor Leste, where the peacekeeping mission will end at the end of this year.”

“There is not so much pressure to find troops for any corps, meaning we can be more selective; instead of quantity, we emphasize quality,” he told the Post during the visit in March.

Ladsus added that it was timely that Indonesia wanted to increase its presence, “because over the years we have found Indonesian peacekeepers, both military and police, to be very solid. They are very professional, very well-trained, well-equipped and disciplined, and their conduct is good.”

The government established the Peacekeeping Center to prepare Indonesian troops from the infantry, health, engineering or any other unit, before being deployed as UN peacekeepers. The “impressive” center, Ladsus said, “ is evidently a top-level, high-standard facility.”

 “We knew already that Indonesian peacekeepers were well-prepared. This will make them even better prepared,” Ladsus added.

“Other countries have set up similar centers. The idea is how to make all these peacekeeping training centers work [...] I know that Indonesia emphasizes the gender issue.”

he said in many crises the missions had to resolve women’s issues. “Women are often targeted as victims [in armed conflicts]. But they can also play a reconciliation role in peace processes.”

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