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IAF all set to keep peace in Congo
July 11, 2003 20:08 IST
The Indian Air Force can add another feather to its wings.
The largest ever contingent of the IAF is all set to leave for the Republic of Congo as part of a UN peacekeeping mission.
The 243-strong contingent, which was given a ceremonial flag-off by Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy on Friday, will be in the trouble-torn African nation for a year.
Krishnaswamy, while wishing the troops well, said, "Combat is not expected in an operation of this kind. The UN rules of engagement clearly state that no peacekeeping force can mount an offensive operation. It is only if we face any danger that we can fire, but not necessarily to kill."
The first of nine aircraft (five MI-17 utility helicopters and four MI-35 gunships for combat purposes) will leave on July 13, IAF officials said.
A 90-member army contingent will join them, they added.
This is the second time in 33 years that an IAF team will go to Congo on a peacekeeping mission, they said.
"It is a matter of pride that you are being selected for such an important assignment, but never think that you are serving in a foreign country. Serving under the UN flag is as important as serving for your own country," Krishnaswamy told the contingent.
The team will be stationed at the towns of Gona and Bonia on the country's border with Rwanda and Burundi, which are known for friction among rival groups.
"We look at it as a learning opportunity. It is going to be an arduous task to carry out operations in alien terrain, difficult ground conditions and thick forests and planning is very important," Krishnaswamy said.
The air chief, who has just returned from the Maldives, said India has gifted a low-range radar to that country in order to assist it in monitoring its aircraft.
An IAF contingent will also be based in the Maldives for two to three months to impart training to the officers there, he added.