I.J. Rikhye; Indian Major General Oversaw U.N. Peacekeeping Efforts

Gen. Indar Jit Rikhye, center, in Cairo in May 1967 with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad, left, and U.N. Secretary-General U Thant. They were headed to a conference with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Gen. Indar Jit Rikhye, center, in Cairo in May 1967 with Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Riad, left, and U.N. Secretary-General U Thant. They were headed to a conference with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. (Associated Press)
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 25, 2007

I.J. Rikhye, 86, a major general in the Indian army who served as military adviser to United Nations secretaries-general Dag Hammarskjold and U Thant in the 1960s, died May 21 at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, near his home. He had respiratory failure.

From 1970 to 1990, he was president of the International Peace Academy, a New York-based organization that promotes the settlement of armed conflicts by training negotiators, diplomats and military personnel in peacekeeping.

Gen. Rikhye (pronounced Rickey) had a distinguished 38-year career in the Indian army. He served with the famed Bengal Lancers during World War II and, starting in the late 1950s, was assigned to U.N. peacekeeping units. He was credited with combining great resolve as a coordinator with physical courage.

Brian E. Urquhart, a former U.N. undersecretary-general, described Gen. Rikhye as "a very good soldier, which most people in the secretariat were not," because they lacked basic knowledge of military procedure.

"He was a very good person to deal with the military in other countries providing the troops," Urquhart said.

Two of Gen. Rikhye's defining roles came in the 1960s, first in the newly independent Congo, where he oversaw a mixed-race peacekeeping force of about 20,000 soldiers, and then in the Gaza Strip.

Gen. Rikhye had served with the United Nations in Gaza after the Suez Canal crisis in the late 1950s and returned in 1966 as the last commander of the U.N. Emergency Force. Egypt, under leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, had withdrawn its consent for the U.N. presence.

Thant then told Gen. Rikhye to end the mission, sending his order in May 1967. Before Gen. Rikhye could complete the task, the Six-Day War was underway in early June. Israeli artillery shelled the U.N. headquarters, killing several Indian peacekeepers. Gen. Rikhye scrambled to reestablish his command in relative safety near the beach in Gaza.

The withdrawal from the Israeli-Egyptian frontier portended a change in peacekeeping, Gen. Rikhye once said. He resigned the next year and became involved, at Thant's urging, with the new International Peace Academy.

Gen. Rikhye became its founding president. He used the job to advocate a peacekeeping curriculum at military academies around the world and to prepare politicians and diplomats for roles in conflict resolution.

He wrote several books about his experiences in peacekeeping, noting in some a skepticism about the United Nations' success rate in persistent conflicts beyond its ability to contain some violence and allow negotiations to continue. At the time of the Gaza withdrawal, he had predicted the start of a "major Middle East war, and I think we'll be sorting it out 50 years from now."

Indar Jit Rikhye was the son of a former medical officer in the British Indian army. He was born July 30, 1920, in Lahore, India (now a city in Pakistan).


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