Eighty-three Cambodian peacekeepers from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 98 of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) departed on their mission to the Central African Republic (CAR) on February 21, with a senior UN official praising it as the first unit from the Kingdom led by a woman commander.

Kosal Malinda, spokesperson for the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces (NPMEC), told The Post that the unit was specially formed in December 2021 with 98 soldiers, including 10 women.

She said 15 of them had already arrived earlier in Bangui on January 10 to prepare the camps and equipment such as explosive charges and vehicles, and to facilitate the work with UN officials for the mission.

Taing Phalla, deputy commander of Unit 98, said he is committed to leading the team successfully and avoiding all unnecessary risks during the mission.

“We are determined to complete this explosive ordnance disposal mission successfully to promote our national pride as well as bring happiness to the people living in the target area for our mission,” he said before his departure.

According to Phalla, some of the members of Unit 98 had previously completed peacekeeping missions to African countries such as Mali, Chad and South Sudan. Before leaving for CAR, they received training in new skills for a year at home.

Speaking at the farewell event held at the NPMEC headquarters, Minister of National Defence Tea Banh reminded the peacekeepers to always adhere to the principles of professionalism, discipline, courage, morality and to respect the law, as those are all “indispensable virtues”.

“As all of our missions face security challenges, we have to always be mindful about dangers, including infectious diseases. You all must show solidarity and unity by sticking together and helping each other complete all of your tasks,” he said.

Tea Banh also told the peacekeepers to respects the rules set by the UN and to report any problems or incidents quickly to the NPMEC.

Joseph Scheuer, UN Resident Coordinator who also attended the farewell, commended the courageous and dedicated Cambodian peacekeepers for serving in the UN peacekeeping operations.

“With your departure today, you are entering a community of nations, united in their quest for peace and a better future for all. Your dedication to helping others and sharing your skills with other countries that are suffering from conflict will be precious and a source of hope and inspiration to many,” he said.

Scheuer said the UN peacekeepers have worked tirelessly in the toughest of conditions and that they manifested the best attributes of global solidarity by serving in dangerous environments to protect the most vulnerable while representing the diverse global community.

“Cambodian deminers and other UN mine-action personnel have transformed danger zones littered with landmines and explosive remnants of war, including cluster munitions, into areas that now can be used for schools, hospitals and farms,” he said.

Noting that he used to be the UN representative for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Mali, Scheuer stated: “I have seen Cambodia’s UN peacekeepers in action on the ground in Mali. I highly commend them for their commitment and dedication to building peace, security and friendship.”

Scheuer said the UN has an initiative currently called the “Women’s Peace and Security Agenda” and that women peacekeepers play role models, champion gender equality and inspire girls around the world to engage in peace-building initiatives at home and abroad.

He said that women’s roles in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace-building are at the heart of building lasting peace and security for all communities, and that Cambodia has shown a strong commitment to this agenda by making contributions to women’s participation in peacekeeping, with the Kingdom ranked 12th out of 123 nations and second overall in ASEAN for its number of women peacekeepers on missions.

“I am truly encouraged to see that this unit – Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit 98 – is the first to be commanded by a female officer. I applaud the courage of all women in uniform for your commitment and service,” he said.

According to NPMEC, as of February 21 and with this most recent deployment, Cambodia has sent 8,952 peacekeepers, 691 of them women, abroad to participate in UN missions in nine countries: Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, CAR, Lebanon, Cyprus, Syria, Mali and Yemen.