Indian women set for historic Liberia peacekeeping
Thursday September 7, 06:01 PM
By Kamil Zaheer
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Dozens of helmeted Indian women in blue camouflage uniform, holding automatic rifles, rubber-tipped bamboo sticks or fibreglass riot shields, position themselves in a circle, training in anti-riot operations.
Nearby, other female officers of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) practise self-defence, their fists flying.
They are part of the first all-woman police unit being sent on a United Nations' peacekeeping mission -- to the west African nation of Liberia, painstakingly recovering from 14 years of an off-on civil war.
Although women officers have been part of U.N. police units, this is the first time a standalone, all-woman force is being sent to a country by the global body.
"We will be under extra scrutiny as an all-woman force but we will live up to expectations," unit commander Seema Dhundia told Reuters on Thursday at a CRPF base outside New Delhi.
"We are professionals and up to the task," said the mother of two, who has carried out counter-insurgency operations against separatist guerrillas and Islamist militants in India.
The United Nations has hailed India's move to send the CRPF unit as "unprecedented" and hopes it will inspire other nations to send more female units to police the world's restive zones.
"This decision is extremely important because as we look at our deployment of women in U.N. police components ... we still retain an unacceptably small number of three or four percent", U.N. police adviser Mark Kroeker said in a statement.
The CRPF officers are expected to deploy to Monrovia, the Liberian capital, next month and are training in U.N. procedures and refining their riot control and unarmed combat skills.
They are also learning about human rights law and Liberian history, culture and society.
The U.N. peacekeeping force in Liberia started in 2003 and has lost 63 military personnel, one military observer and seven police officers.
Some 250,000 people were killed in the timber and diamond-rich nation between 1989 and 2003. Many of them were killed by drug-crazed child soldiers.
Thousands of girls were combatants and integrating them into society is one of the challenges for the Indian women peacekeepers who will always wear sidearms and have an arsenal of AK-47 assault rifles and light machine guns to fall back on.
Women often form a large portion of restive crowds in Liberia and CRPF officers say part of their brief would be handling rioters.
CRPF chief J.K. Sinha said his women troops were up to the task in Liberia.
"Women personnel would be needed when women are breaking the law," he said.