Be courteous, air force tells its men bound for Congo


New Delhi : A 285-member Indian Air Force contingent, who will leave for Congo Saturday for a UN peacekeeping mission, were Thursday asked to maintain “highest standards of discipline, integrity and professionalism”. The Indian peacekeepers have in the past been accused of gold smuggling and sexual abuses.

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“You are the ambassadors of peace and the nation has high expectations from you in terms of discipline, integrity and professional standards. Don’t do things which are perceived wrong or could be wrong. Don’t fall to false contemplation. Be extremely cautious,” Air Marshal K.M. Rama Sundra told the departing air force personnel here.

“In the past some disgruntled elements have made allegations. But in all enquiries we have come clean. Do not let any one raise questions on your character. It would be very difficult to remove stains. Don’t take advantage of locals and their weakness. Don’t take advantage of your position. Be courteous to them,” Sundra said.

The 285 Indian Air Force personnel, who swapped their regular grey side caps with the distinct blue beret worn by UN peacekeepers worldwide, will replace their colleagues sent back last year.

About 4,500 Indian troops are posted in Congo under the UN peacekeeping mission. There were charges of misconduct like gold smuggling and sexual abuse against the Indian Army personnel, prompting the Congolese government to write to the UN to stop sending replacements of Indian troops.

The Congolese government, however, withdrew its complaint six months ago.

The Indian Army is now sending one unit of 5 Bihar, comprising 1,000 troops, to the African nation June 22 after a gap of over 15 months. Following this, two more army units will be sent to Congo to replace an equal number of units in that country.

Meanwhile, the officials said that the Indian Air Force operates six Mi-17 utility helicopters and four Mi-35 attack choppers from Bukavu in eastern Congo.

The officials said the twin purpose of the contingent is to provide mobility to UN staff and forces while acting as a deterrent for the belligerent groups trying to destabilise the peace process.

Mi-17 choppers are used for troop insertion and extraction, casualty evacuation, logistic supply, search and rescue, reconnaissance and observation, while the Mi-35, equipped with night targeting system, functions as the offensive armed support, said an air force official.

Sundra told IANS that the Indian Air Force provides crucial air support to Pakistan’s infantry unit based in Congo.

“We work hand-in-hand with Pakistan infantry and armed forces of other countries who are on peace keeping mission in Congo. There have been instances when we had extended crucial support to Pakistani personnel,” he said.