Annina Barbosa, First Secretary working on peacekeeping issues at the Finnish Mission to the UN, recently traveled with other mission and UN colleagues to Mali and Liberia. The purpose of the trip was to get a firsthand look at UN peacekeeping on the ground. On the plane to Gao in northern Mali she met three Finnish police officers on their way to be stationed there. Five Finnish police officers are now deployed to the MINUSMA mission in Mali, an operation often described as one of the most dangerous in UN history.
It's the first day of December in Mali's capital Bamako. Together with a group of UN colleagues from New York, I'm visiting the West African country and the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission MINUSMA located there. We are on our way to Gao in the north of the country. Two days earlier terrorists have managed to execute a significant attack very close to the airport and the MINUSMA camp in Gao and our departure is delayed for security reasons.
Also three Finnish police officershave had to wait for their departure to Gao for several days due to the recent attack. They are Finnish police officers, and have been deployed to the MINUSMA police operation a few weeks earlier. They are now off to be stationed in Gao. When we are finally cleared to board, we are on the same flight.
Two os the police officers have worked in different international operations before, whereas for one of them this is the first mission. He is still struggling to get use to the 40 degree Celsius heat, but looking forward to the mission.
I ask the trio if they are not afraid considering the extremely difficult security situation in Mali. They shrug their shoulders and say that you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time wherever you are, whether in Finland or in Mali. The officers are also pleased to be stationed in Gao, as it is perceived to have a good camp. The total number of Finnish police officers deployed to Mali this fall is five; the other two are located in Timbuktu.
This year Finland celebrates 60 years of participation in UN peacekeeping missions. The main festivities awere held in the city of Lahti last week with the participation of Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous. Finland continues to be committed to supporting the United Nation's work for keeping and sustaining peace in the world's conflict areas.
Proudly celebrating the contributions made over the past six decades, Finland is also now seeking to increase its commitment to the UN's police work. Modern peacekeeping operations include very important police components, and the significance of UN policing has become increasingly important in recent years. Police officers working in peacekeeping missions have a special role to play in reaching out to local communities, in capacity building and in the important task of protection of civilians.
In September 2015 the United States under the leadership of President Barack Obama organized a special summit on UN peacekeeping. Recognizing the importance of police work in the missions, Finland decided to make a special pledge at the summit, to increase Finland's contribution with a minimum of 20 police officers during 2016. Since then much work has been done in both Finland and New York to recruit the officers and have them assigned to different missions around the world.
The five police officers deployed to Mali in November are part of this effort. Several others have travelled to Liberia and Somalia in recent months. A significant group of officers are also waiting to take up positions in the UNMISS mission in South Sudan. With these contributions Finland's police participation in UN missions will be significantly increased. As a next step Finland also looks to increase participation of Finnish experts in civilian tasks in United Nations operations. The continued and strengthened commitment to UN peacekeeping is part of Finland's ambition to be a responsible international partner for peace and security.
The writer serves as First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations in New York.