While peacekeeping missions in the first place protect civilians and reduce the risk of renewed warfare in post-conflict zones, they also play an important role in foreign policy.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the Conference on Indonesian Foreign Policy in Jakarta on Saturday (21/10), UN peacekeepers shared their stories from operations and how they try to establish cordial relations with the communities they protect.
“We have what’s referred to as ‘territorial guidance,’ a social communications strategy that includes friendliness, civility … we have a different approach [than other peacekeeping forces],” said Col. Inf. Triadi Murwanto, commander of the Garuda Contingent — the peacekeeping forces of the Indonesian Military.
Lt. Col. Singgih Pambudi said the contingent’s members often bring aid packages to their areas of deployment.
“This is not something other contingents do. We have a personal approach to the communities where our missions are undertaken. We treat them as if they were our own [people],” Singgih said.
He emphasized the importance of impartiality in establishing ties with community leaders or other figures, whose roles may matter for an operation’s success or failure.
Chief Sgt. Esti Nurindah Kartikasari, who was tasked with gathering intelligence during her deployment in Lebanon, said that although tricky, reaching out to members of local communities is essential in pursuit of information.
Lt. Col. Didiet Hendra Wijaya, who served in the Central African Republic, said in his free time he would watch cartoons with local children, hoping to “win the hearts of the kids and their parents.”
For First Lt. Agung Prasetyo Wicaksono, who was deployed in Sudan, one of the challenges during missions is to “stay fit and healthy” in extreme weather conditions and amid lethal diseases such as malaria.
Often peacekeeping also involves providing health care aid.
In 2015, Indonesia adopted the 4,000 Peacekeepers Vision, a pledge to become one of the top 10 contributors in peacekeeping missions by the end of 2019.
With 2,713 peacekeepers now, Indonesia ranks 10th in the United Nations and the first in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Triadi said.
“In the future, we aim to increase our participation in UN missions and offer our services to resolving challenging, multi-dimensional conflicts around the world, especially in Africa,” he added.
According to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, UN peacekeeping missions are “at the very heart of Indonesia’s foreign policy.”