The commanding officer (CO) of the first Fijian contingent to serve under the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in 1978 recalled with pride yesterday how the soldiers prepared for the deployment.
Speaking at a service at Suva’s Centenary Methodist Church, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau paid tribute to all those who made Fiji’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions possible.
The service was part of celebrations to mark the Republic of Fiji Military Force’s 40 years of service under the UN peacekeeping banner.
Ratu Epeli, who was then a Lieutenant Colonel, recalled the last few days before the battalion left Fiji for Lebanon.
“It was here at the Centenary Church that the Methodist Church farewelled us in 1978,” he said.
He said the advance party left on a Sunday after the names were finalised on Saturday.
“We left from Luvuluvu airport around 7pm, at the same time the battalion had a farewell church service here, in this very church,” he said
He said members of the contingent were wearing blue berets, which was something new for Fijians to see.
Ratu Epeli said without the involvement of the two neighbouring countries, Australia and New Zealand, Fijian peacekeepers would not be where they were today.
“We had the assistance of the government and the defence forces of New Zealand, the government and the defence forces of Australia as well as United Kingdom, which trained me, our officers and helped Fiji,” he said.
The service at Centenary Church was attended by the President, Major-General (Ret’d) Jioji Konrote, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, members of the diplomatic corps, local and members of some overseas disciplined forces.
President Konrote served as Force Commander for the whole of UNIFIL, after a distinguished service with the Fiji Battalion
With the theme “Fiji’s Sacrifice for Global Peace”, the commemoration will be the first of its kind to remember those who served not only in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), but many other peacekeeping deployments around the globe.
Minister Cawaki reminds public of service creed
Fijians have been reminded that there is a blessing in doing good.
The comment came from Assistant Minister for Rural and Maritime Development, Joeli Cawaki, during the church service to 40th year of service by the Republic of Fiji Military Forces under the United Nations peacekeeping banner.
“Today (Sunday) was planned for the three divisions (western, central and northern) coming together as one and thanking our Lord for his blessing and guidance throughout the peacekeeping mission,” said Mr Cawaki, a former senior Fiji Navy officer who served in peacekeeping missions as well.
“We also thank the Government for its hard work because we are working together to build a better Fiji.
“I want to remind you this service celebration in Labasa will end on Wednesday at Subrail Park in Labasa and hence inviting you all to come.”
Nasea Methodist Church’s Reverend Inia Mavai called on members of the congregation to prioritise service before self and sacrifice for others.
“Before we make peace we are to own peace and that peace can come from Jesus,” he said.
“Blessed are those who work to maintain peace and with honesty.”
Tui Macuata Ratu Wiliame Katonivere and Commissioner Northern Jovesa Vocea also attended the service.