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UNTSO - Finnish experience from the UN Peacekeeping Mission - Embassy of Finland, Tel Aviv : Current Affairs : News


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News, 12/7/2015

UNTSO - Finnish experience from the UN Peacekeeping Mission

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the UN and the 60th anniversary of the membership of Finland in the UN. On this occasion we asked from a few Finnish soldiers in the UN Peacekeeping Mission UNTSO - situated at the moment on the Golan Heights - about their Mission and about their typical day.

What is UNTSO and how is UNTSO also attached to Finland?

UNTSO (The United Nations Truce Supervision Organization) is the oldest and also one of smallest United Nations Peacekeeping Mission founded in 1948. UNTSO’s main task is to monitor the compliance of cease fire agreements in South Lebanon and in Golan and in occupied Golan. The mission operates in five countries: Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Due to internal conflict in Syria all the observers are currently redeployed to the occupied Golan.

Military observers on duty
Military observers on duty

UNTSO is primarily a military observer mission. UNTSO has military observers (unarmed experienced officers with many having experience from other peacekeeping operations) from 25 different nations supported by international and local civilians employees. Because there are people all over the world, UNTSO is an excellent “arena” to learn each other’s modus operandi, culture, habits and traditions.

Finland has 18 military observers in the mission at the moment and they are currently the biggest troop contributing country. Finnish military observers work in different assignments in the mission from staff duties to line observers.

What are the military observers doing and how does a typical day of an observer look like?

Observers deploy in 7 to 10 days shifts in a two or three person teams at Observation Posts (OPs) or in the patrol bases (PBs). The primary role of a military observer is to monitor and report on activities along the cease fire line. In addition observers meet the village elders or local military and discussion with them all matters of interest.

Patrol in the desert
Patrol in the desert

The observers also live alongside with the local population and shop at the same places and markets that local people do. The interaction with the local community is not only limited to the working hours and observers are on duty 24/7. Meeting people and changing opinions are actually of significant importance in confidence building.

Ordinary day in Observation Post at OGG-T

Military observer, Captain Miikka Heikkinen (FIN) describes about an ordinary day in the Observation Post as follows: “When writing this story on late hours I have just finished drafting a daily report and a morning brief which are tasks of a duty officer. Basically every line military observer at some point works as a duty officer who is, for example, responsible for tracking the units on ground and assisting them when needed. The shift begins in the morning and lasts until the next morning’s morning brief is presented to the commanding officer. Sitting in the “box”, as we say, is a good way to widen your understanding about the operation itself and experience something more than so called OP life.”

Work in the Observation Post is done in all kinds of weather conditions

“Observer Group Golan’s (OGG) United Nations Military Observers (UNMO) ordinary day goes by in the OPs in the Golan Heights. Time spent inside the OPs are not counted in days but in weeks. It consists of observing the situation in the area and reporting it accordingly. Spending so much time inside the OPs means that there is also spare time to spend; there are as many ways to spend it as there are UNMOs. Some of us like to read books and some watch series. Most commonly time is still spent doing sports. The day at the OP ends with a dinner cooked by one of the UNMO’s. The dinner is the main event for the day where all of us sit around the same table to enjoy the company of each other and discuss the day's events.”

“After leaving the OPs and returning to Tiberias, it’s time for a sauna, a custom, that most of the other nationalities cannot understand. The following day preparations for the upcoming duties begin. Focus is put on resting, washing clothes and shopping for enough food to survive the next week in the OPs.”

The Embassy of Finland in Tel Aviv thanks the writers, Lieutenant Colonel Jari Vuorela (UNTSO Headquarters) and Captain Miikka Heikkinen (Observer Group in Tiberias), for their effort towards this article.  We wish UNTSO a happy 70th anniversary year of the UN!

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Updated 12/10/2015

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