Fifty-three Cambodian peacekeepers of Airfield Engineering Unit 729 returned to Cambodia on October 27 after completing their humanitarian UN mission in Mali, according to the Ministry of National Defence.

The soldiers were welcomed home by defence minister Tea Seiha and UN resident coordinator in Cambodia Jo Scheuer. Also present were Ith Sarath, deputy commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and several distinguished representatives of “friendly” nations at Phnom Penh International Airport.

Seiha offered his appreciation for the achievements of the Kingdom’s blue helmet peacekeepers, as they fulfilled their international mission for the cause of peace and humanity.

“Under the leadership of former Prime Minister Hun Sen – who fought until the end of the civil war, when he brought comprehensive peace to the whole country in 1998 through his win-win policy – Cambodia made rapid steps to expand its scope of experience and contribute to peacekeeping missions,” he said.

Through the defence ministry, Scheuer thanked the Cambodian soldiers, the government, and the Cambodian people for their contribution to the common cause of world peace.

He praised the Airfield Engineering Unit 729 members who joined a fearless, proud tradition of Cambodian service in the cause of UN peacekeeping, along with the other Cambodian troops who have served across many countries.

“The deployment of courageous and dedicated women and men to serve in UN peacekeeping operations supporting global peace and security is always an event to be marked with seriousness and humility,” he said.

Sem Sovanny, director-general of the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces, Mine and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance (NPMEC), explained that the operation in Mali was part of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), which was established by UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2100 of April 25, 2013, to support the political process and perform security-related tasks in Mali.

“The mission was set up to support the transitional authority of Mali with the stabilisation of the country and the implementation of the MINUSMA transitional roadmap. It included the participation of a total of 15,779 military, police and civilian individuals from 56 countries,” he said.

He added that based on its experience with earlier deployments of the Kingdom’s troops, the UN had requested that Cambodia send the airfield engineering brigade and an explosive ordnance destruction brigade to support the peace process in Mali.

He recalled that the RCAF first deployed in Mali in February 2014, establishing positions in two regions: Kidal and Gao. Since then, Cambodia has sent a total of 2,725 troops, including 193 women.

According to Sovanny, for the past nine years, the airfield engineering force has faced many dangers, including the risk of attacks and even suicide bombs from state and non-state actors, natural disasters such as typhoons and infectious diseases.

The UN Security Council members have declared their strong support for a request from Mali’s government for the full withdrawal of the decade-old MINUSMA, and the transfer of security responsibilities to the country’s transitional government, which has been in power since a coup in 2021.

On October 25, Prime Minister Hun Manet announced that he had agreed with the UN’s request for the withdrawal of all Cambodian peacekeepers from Mali, due to security concerns.