Responses to student questions from peacekeepers in the field:
Timur Goskel, UNIFIL
Click here for more insfomration on the UNIFIL mission.
To Mr. Timur Goksel,
a. Does your job have any daily routines? If so, what are they?
b. What kind of help did UNIFIL bring to Lebanon?
c. What do the local people think about the work you do?
d. What do you think are the main elements of peace?
Mankkaa school, Finland
Delighted to have a question from Finland. You probably know that we have Finnish soldiers serving with UNIFIL in south Lebanon. I was in Helsinki last month -- although only for two short days -- to attend a seminar about peacekeeping. It was a good opportunity to meet some old friends, including your present defense chief Gen. Hagglund, who was once force commander of UNIFIL.
If you want to be informed of what is going on -- and that's what I live on -- routines are essential. First thing I do every day is to examine the reports of what happened in the last 24 hours. Then I quickly scan some regional news. After that my very able team of news monitors provide me with translations of everything of interest reported by radio, TV and newspapers. Otherwise, everyday is different. There are always new problems to handle, different questions to answer, different people to meet. Anyway, political life in the Middle East is so dynamic, so rapidly changing that routines are hard to build.
The office day ends by putting together a summary of regional news of interest to UNIFIL personnel. But the day is never over because incidents happen 24-hours and everyone who needs to know about them can easily find me where ever I am. It is routine for me to answer telephones at 0200 in the morning. Sometimes when it gets tense in the region my three phones ring at the same time. My daughter, 9, and my son, 10 have become very good assistants and they keep the callers happy by putting them in order. Two days ago, while pushing a cart in the supermarket I answered about five different telephone calls -- two from my headquarters in New York -- and as a result bought lots of wrong things.
b. Let me put it this way: When UNIFIL came to south Lebanon there were no more than 10,000 people in the region. Now there are close to half a million. Schools are open, agriculture is booming, roads are repaired, electricity is working. UNIFIL did help bring some assurances of safety to the people. Although we had no budget for such services, we did a lot. For many years, UNIFIL provided the only medical service, free. Our soldiers volunteered their free time to repair schools, playgrounds, fix electric lines. We try not to throw away any equipment such as desks, chairs, typewriters etc. We repair them and give them to schools. There is an orphanage that cares for about 100 children, mostly through personal contributions of our soldiers.
Even today, UN soldiers still escort farmers to their fields so that they won't be caught in exchanges of fire.
Some of the countries that send soldiers to Lebanon also help. For example, the Finnish soldiers run one of the best medical clinics for the people. With the money provided by your government, they built a beautiful village school. In another village, they built a playground. Now, they are helping the Lebanese to build and operate the first ecologically-friendly garbage disposal system in the country. This one will serve ten villages, but if it is successful it will contribute to a possible solution for a very serious problem for the entire country.
c. Lebanese are friendly and hospitable people. They like foreigners. They have supported UNIFIL from the first day. Although sometimes our rules and regulations disturb their routines, they have continued to support us. This is a country which just went through a 20-year long, very violent civil war. Interfering in Lebanese ways of life and telling them what to do is always a risky affair. But as UNIFIL we have always felt welcome. Anyway, without the full support of the local population no peacekeeping mission, anywhere, can be successful.
d. Main element of peace in my view: wanting it.
To the United Nations,
Here are my questions for Timur Goskel from Turkey.
a. How are your living conditions while on the mission?
b. In your opinion, what is the hardest part of your mission?
c. When and if this mission is completed, would you consider going on another peacekeeping mission?
If Mr.Goskel is too busy to answer these questions, I understand. I would also like to say that I am very proud of my country and all the other nations of the world which have so bravely joined together to make the world a better place for ALL people.
Keep up the good work.
Believe me, I have been with UNIFIL for nearly 20 years and I am yet to be bored. If it had not been such a busy, fascinating place where I am doing something I believe in, I wouldn't have been able to remain here for 20 years. Now to your questions:
a. I'll answer your questions in two parts. First, the living conditions of the military: the UN provides basic living quarters for the soldiers in the field. Initially, we used lots of civilian houses because the region was abandoned by its population. Now life is returning to normal and people are coming back to reclaim their houses. Of course, this return to normal life delights us. But it does create housing problems for us. If there are no houses UN installs pre-fabricated housing. The problem now is that the mission, although called interim, is more than 20 years old and prefabs have a normal life of five years. To replace them means money, and the UN is badly short of that. Nevertheless, to provide adequate shelter for the troops is the main mission of our administration. The region where our troops operate can be very cold, rainy with snow in higher altitudes in winter and very hot in summer.
The soldiers spent their free time doing sports and watching TV, but with their helmets and fragmentation jackets always nearby. On longer leaves, they tour Lebanon and Israel.
Civilians like myself work at our headquarters in Lebanese coastal village of Naqoura. There is no housing for civilian staff members there, so we commute daily across the border to Israel where most of us rent houses in the coastal town of Nahariya. On the map, the distance is very short but border crossing formalities, twice a day, can be tiring. Israel is a very security-conscious country, therefore entering it is not easy. There are a series of checks, searches.
It is definitely not a holiday mission. The UN staff -- military and civilian -- has to operate in the middle of a war zone. It is very easy to get caught in the middle. Myself, I have been shelled in my headquarters in Lebanon, in my home in Nahariya, on the road in Lebanon and Israel. One has to keep awake at all times and be a good analyst of developments so that you can guess what might happen next. And when you move around in south Lebanon you have to keep your ear glued to your operational radio, with your helmet and fragmentation jacket on the seat next to you. It also helps to keep your car windows open so you can hear if shelling starts. That's probably why I get an ear-ache every winter. It's a good idea to learn a bit about the weapons being used in the region so that you can take cover accordingly.
b. The hardest part of the mission is to see the suffering of the people and not being able to do too much about it immediately and definitely while the politicians take their time to resolve the problem.
c. Yes, I would definitely try another peacekeeping mission. After so many years in the field, it would be difficult for me to adapt myself to the requirements of headquarters [in New York]. For instance, I would have to buy ties, white shirts and suits as I currently have none. Also, after so long a period in the field, with all its problems and excitement, I would probably be bored to death [at headquarters].
As long as I feel that I'm contributing something to cause of peace, I rather stay out here.
Hi, My name is Marcelo Sicoli, I'm an international relations student in Brasilia, Brazil, and I have some questions:
a. How does the UN decide that it's time to intervene in a country?
b. Do the governments of this country normally agree with the intervention?
c. What's the basic differences in peacekeeping and peace building missions?
Thank you very much for your attention.
a. Either the Secretary-General or a member state can bring the problem to the attention of the Security Council. It has to be a problem that could endanger international peace and security. Normally, the UN applies Chapter VI of its Charter which calls for the peaceful resolution of problems with the cooperation of parties involved. Rarely does the UN choose to implement Chapter VII which allows the UN to enforce peace -- which means it could use force to end a crisis. This also answers, I hope, your question "c".
b-c. Agreement of the countries involved is definitely required if the UN is going to intervene on the basis of Chapter VI. For the UN, sovereignty and independence of countries are paramount. For example, I work in a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon [UNIFIL]. If the state of Lebanon does not want that force on its territory, we can't stay.
After an English lesson about peacekeeping we got an opportunity to address some questions to you. We would like you to know that we respect and value the job you are doing very much and hope that your mission will be successful. Here are our questions:
a. Did you always want to be an Information assistant for the U.N.? Why?
b. What are your specific tasks in the mission (your duties as an Information Assistant)?
b. Do the two nations involved in the conflict respect the proposals of peacekeepers? In that respect, are there any differences between the two nations?
Thank you for your answers. We will cross our fingers for you.
a. I always wanted to work in the field of international politics and journalism. While I was a university student, working part-time in journalism and preparing to take the examinations for the Turkish Foreign Service, the UN offered me a job. You could say it was a job that combined two of my favorite fields, so I joined. That was in 1968.
b. I was an Information Assistant with the UN Information Office in Turkey. That was radically different from what I have been doing with UNIFIL in south Lebanon. In Turkey, I had to be an expert on everything the UN did, including its specialized agencies, from the World Health Organization to the World Bank, because I was handling daily questions from students, teachers, journalists, government offices. I was responsible for keeping the Turkish news media informed about the UN's work, occasionally lecturing in schools, writing articles, etc.
With UNIFIL, I started out by being responsible for press-public relations of that force [UNIFIL] alone (and for the past couple of years for its political relations as well). But here, it is mainly politics. I had to learn the region, the actors, the armies, the guerrilla operations, specifications of weapons, how to read between the lines of news reports. One has to be a very good student, well-informed and tactful. As a UN staff member, I don't have an army with big guns and a rich government with lots of money behind me. My survival and success depend on the credibility of the UN and myself.
I deal with journalists -- from different parts of the world -- who can be much more demanding than the ones we were helping in Ankara.
Here my goal is to make sure that, first, the local population understand why UN troops are here. Without that understanding and cooperation we can't survive. Second, I do my best to make sure that the countries that send their soldiers to Lebanon continue to believe that it is a worthwhile mission.
c. In international politics, countries tend to put their national interests at the front. As such, they tend to cooperate with us when it basically suits their own interests. That's why we have to be good students of the region we serve, that is, we have to study and learn about it so that our proposals would be acceptable. When you prove that as a UN peacekeeper you are impartial and fair, yes, chances of your proposal being accepted get better.
Where we are, the host country is Lebanon. The people, the army and the government are very helpful, friendly and above all, hospitable. The people here treat UN soldiers from different corners of the world as their own children.
The mission was set up in 1978 to oversee the withdrawal of the Israeli army out of Lebanon. That's yet to happen. At the outset, Israelis saw UNIFIL as an adversary because they didn't understand what its mission was. Our relations were correct but not friendly. Over the years, however, that has changed and our relations with Israel have improved. They are now more understanding of our problems and our needs. I also think that there is a growing feeling in Israel that to get out of Lebanon, they need the UN.
Dear Timur Goksel,
I have questions about the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon.
a. What were some of the problems you faced?
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
A study group in the International Relations class
Freehold Township High School
UNIFIL's problems have been too many to list here but the fundamental one was the unwillingness of the involved parties to cooperate with it. Non-cooperation means that sometimes those parties that had promised to work with UNIFIL and support it, forgot their commitments whenever the UN presence did not suit their interests. On occasion, those parties or their allies fired on UN peacekeepers, killing and wounding many.
Looking back, one also realizes that the Security Council resolution which authorized the formation of the force in 1978 [Resolution 425] was not all that realistic. For example, UNIFIL was asked to spread the rule of the state to the southern part of the country while the state, in the midst of a violent civil war, couldn't even control Beirut, its capital.
Of course, UNIFIL isn't the only mission that suffered from unrealistic mandates.
Is it possible for me as a Mexican citizen to be enrolled in a peacekeeping mission?
Luis Vieyra Buenfil
There are two ways: One is for Mexico to join a peacekeeping mission by sending soldiers or police. That means you can't join the military/police side of the mission as 'an individual'.
The second is to be a UN staff member and then be assigned to a mission. Of course, that is possible for people from all the Member States. In UNIFIL, for example, we have military personnel from nine countries and civilians from more than 50. Yes, we have Mexican nationals working with us in Lebanon in different administrative/technical jobs.
My name is John Di Lascio. I am a student at Freehold Township High
School. A few of my friends and I were reading up on your history as a member of the UN. We read about how you rose up to become Senior Advisor and spokesman of UNIFL and how you worked against the tension between the Lebanese and Israelis. We saw how you sought out peace in those matters. We are e- mailing you because we would like the answers to a few questions.
a. Did you help establish the UNIFL?
b. What was it like [seeing and having to contend with] ongoing terrorism in Palestine and Cyprus?
c. What made you decide to work in that field?
Thank you for taking the time to read my e-mail and send me back the answers. Please feel free to correct me in any information I may have given that was incorrect.
John Di Lascio
a. UNIFIL was established in April 1978 as an interim -- a temporary -- force. When I joined it in February 1979, it did look very temporary. I certainly did help establish my field of work, and ran what was called a "one-person press operation". Looking back, I am also proud of the work I did in establishing contacts with the local population, political-military groups and the local and international news media.
b. Seeing the suffering of innocent people is never easy no matter which part of the world you are in. The closer you are to such tragedies, the more determined you become that to end it.
I'm based in Lebanon, but am naturally very much aware of what is happening in the whole region.
In Lebanon, where terrorism was once rampant, life is much more sedate and orderly nowadays. The State is becoming dominant and law-order forces are improving by the day. But the civilians are still suffering, especially in south Lebanon because of the ongoing conflict between the Israeli army, which is occupying a part of it, and Lebanese resistance groups, which are fighting that occupation.
Israel's argument is that they want security for their own people who live near the border before they withdraw from Lebanon. They have a point. I should know. I have been living in Israel near the border for nearly 20 years. It is not a pleasant feeling to worry about what room of your home is safe for your children. But the situation of Lebanese civilians who have no civil defense system is much worse. While the argument continues, civilians on both sides are paying a price.
c. From my high school days, I wanted to work in journalism and international relations. I was the editor of my high school and university newspapers. During my university years I worked part-time in journalism. The UN job, which was offered to me by coincidence, combined the two fields I liked most, so I stayed on.
Can UN soldiers use their weapons to defend a refugee's life?
Using weapons in a UN mission has always been a difficult question. It very much depends on the mandate [task] given to the soldiers. Basically, the UN rules allow weapons to be used only in self-defence. That means you will have to try every other means to solve a problem, including negotiations, before using your weapon. In most refugee situations, the UN personnel who are involved are unarmed civilian humanitarian workers. In those cases where the UN uses soldiers to protect refugees, then the Security Council has to make a decision which will allow the soldiers to use force to perform their mission.
Thank you for your interest, and regards
Senior Adviser/ Spokesman, UNIFIL