Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Pinnacle of Peace

A Pinnacle of PeaceBy Donna Cusumano
At the time of year when many people are busying themselves for holiday parties with friends and family, when both secular and spiritual messages reverberate with appeals for peace and giving, why would three United Nations Military Liaison Officers decide to forgo the celebrations with friends and loved ones, and mark the occasion with an extraordinary symbolic gesture?

Perhaps a little background on the three MLOs helps explain their daring act. When Lt. Col. Virk Dipinder left his native India nearly a year ago for first-time deployment as a peacekeeper with UNMISS, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, he had many thoughts and questions and maybe even some ambivalence about what lay ahead.  Apprehensive about serving in an unknown land, though proud to do so under the UN flag, he also saw it as an opportunity to learn about another culture while representing India, one of the UN’s largest troop-contributing countries.

Major Vikash Kumar, also from India, and Major Liviu Chende from Romania, shared his sentiments when they, too, were deployed to UNMISS: eager for a new experience and proud to be appointed by their respective countries to serve in the world’s youngest country, yet still with some uncertainty about what lay ahead.

What never occurred to any of the three, however, was that they would be equally moved by what they saw on the ground: the longing for peace by the people in an unsettled land.  That common bond forged a friendship between the three when they met as MLOs in UNMISS.

As MLOs—Lt. Col. Dipinder is Deputy Commander of Operations, Majors Kumar and Chende are Staff Officers—the three were posted in many regions of South Sudan, including the conflict states where sporadic violence is still ongoing despite a peace agreement signed by the parties involved in the conflict. Through their daily work, Lt. Col. Dipinder explains, they had the opportunity to regularly engage with a large cross section of the local population. “I’ve interacted regularly with the government officials and members of the SPLA and I never had any problems,” says Lt. Col. Dipinder, referring to the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army, and one of the warring parties of the civil war that began in December 2013 and that ravaged the young country.

As the end of Lt. Col. Dipinder’s mission approached, early January 2016, he says he began to “feel sentimental” about his departure from South Sudan.  He reflected on his yearlong mission, what he’d done, the sights he’d seen, and the people he’d met.  Sure, he had many stories to take away and share back home; his time as a peacekeeper had enriched his life experience and provided him with new skills. Most poignantly, though, he says he was deeply moved by what he had witnessed on the ground as a UN peacekeeper: the hardships the population has to endure as a result of the civil war and the absence of peace.  “I thought: ‘we’re doing a lot, but we could do more’. You want to make a mark. You take so much with you in terms of experience when you leave a peacekeeping mission and the country you served in, so you want to give something back.”Read More...

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