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The long, grim history of U.N. peacekeepers caught in the crossfire

Chadian troops, part of an African Union peacekeeping force, drive down a road in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Dec. 26, 2013. (Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press)

43 Fijian peacekeepers serving in the Golan Heights along the Syrian-Israeli border were detained by Syrian rebels Thursday morning, according to the United Nations. Earlier, rebels had gained control of the border crossing between Syria and Israel while government warplanes targeted positions of the militants, who are suspected to be members of al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. An additional 81 peacekeepers were trapped by the fighting, the United Nations said in a statement, but it gave no details about their nationalities. The Associated Press reported that the 81 were from the Philippines, citing Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the U.N. secretary general.

As of October, the last time the mission's Web site was updated, the countries contributing troops to the mission were Fiji, the Philippines, India, Nepal, Ireland and the Netherlands. They were in charge of patrolling the demilitarized zone in the Golan Heights that was set up after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

Peacekeeping missions always come with risks. Last year, four Philippine U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights were detained by a Syrian rebel group called the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade but were eventually released. Other confrontations, however, have had deadly outcomes. Here are the countries whose soldiers have suffered the most casualties while wearing the blue U.N. peacekeeping helmets:


Below is a timeline of some of the darkest years in the history of U.N. peacekeeping:

1961 — In reaction to the Congo crisis, the United Nations adopted a resolution in 1960 allowing a large-scale peacekeeping mission. The following year, 105 international peacekeepers were killed worldwide in what the United Nations called "malicious acts," many of them in the Congo. The term broadly refers to fatalities caused by attacks.

1974 28 peacekeepers were killed in such attacks that year, among them nine Canadians whose plane, headed toward the Syrian capital, was shot down.

1993  Overall, 127 were killed in attacks. Among those who died, at least 16 peacekeepers were allegedly killed by Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Cambodia in multiple attacks, 23 died in an attack in Somalia on June 5, and seven lost their lives in the same country a little later that year.

1994  In the year of the Rwandan genocide, 71 peacekeepers lost their lives in "malicious acts" worldwide. Several peacekeepers were killed in Rwanda, although the operation was later criticized as a failure because the United Nations could not prevent the genocide. That year, five U.N. peacekeepers from Nepal died in Somalia.

2003  30 peacekeepers were attacked and killed worldwide.

2005  Overall, 25 international peacekeepers were killed, including seven who died in Congo in  February.

2012 In an escalation of the crisis in the Ivory Coast, seven peacekeepers were killed June 8. Overall, 22 peacekeepers died in similar incidents worldwide.

2013  Five peacekeepers were killed in April in South Sudan, and in July, seven troops lost their lives in an attack in Darfur, Sudan. Overall, 33 peacekeepers died in attacks worldwide.

There are currently 16 U.N. peacekeeping operations and one special political mission spread over four continents.

The peacekeepers are supposed to "maintain peace and security, facilitate the political process, protect civilians, assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants," according to the operation's Web site. Furthermore, peacekeepers are charged with supporting and organizing elections as well as promoting human rights and assisting in restoring the rule of law.

Rick Noack writes about foreign affairs and is based in Europe.



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