India is beefing up its presence in the UN peacekeeping force in Congo with an additional 850 strong infantry battalion leaving Saturday for the restive Katanga province ahead of elections later this month.
"You have an onerous responsibility on your shoulders. I am sure you will come out with flying colours," Indian Army deputy chief Lt. Gen. Susheel Gupta said while flagging off the second battalion of the Rajputana Rifles to the African country on Friday.
"Given your experience of internal security duties in Assam and Kashmir, I have no doubt you will bring this to bear in your new assignment," Gupta told the soldiers and officers.
Battalion commanding officer Colonel Rajeev Malhotra expressed confidence that his troops would rise to the occasion.
"We have been training for the assignment for the last two months. Special emphasis has been placed on the diplomatic aspect of our mission given that apart from maintaining the peace during the (July 31) elections, we have also to function as ambassadors of our country," Malhotra maintained.
No timeframe has been set for the additional force, but it is likely to stay till the election process is complete and a new government is installed. Katangese rebels have threatened to disrupt the polls.
A total of 8,675 Indian Army officers and soldiers are currently serving with UN peacekeeping forces worldwide.
Of them, 3,756 are deployed in Congo, 2,420 in the Sudan, 1,625 in Ethiopia/Eritrea, 672 in Lebanon, and 187 on the Golan Heights. In addition, eight officers are deployed in the Ivory Coast, six in Burundi and two with the Department of Peacekeeping at the UN headquarters in New York.
The Indian Army's participation in the UN Peacekeeping operations spans a period of 50 years covering 29 UN missions, in which over 50,000 Indian soldiers have served in various parts of the world.
India is presently the second largest troop contributor to the UN. It has also offered one brigade of troops to the UN Standby Arrangements.
The largest (and longest serving) contingent was sent to Congo in 1961. An independent brigade group, it helped bring about peace and thereafter enforce it - which involved light to heavy engagements with motley groups beefed up by white mercenary columns.
Apart from Congo, India has sent battalion groups, engineers, medical teams, military observers and staff personnel to Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Lebanon and Ethiopia.