As reported, 40 Latvian soldiers are currently serving under the European Union’s military operation in Bangui, the capital of the religious strife-torn landlocked nation. They were deployed in June along with recently procured military equipment to bolster the EU’s forces there.
According to NBS Head Chaplain Elmars Plavins, the soldiers are feeling “optimistic, because they are under very good leadership and are getting valuable international experience.”
“We have a great team – folks that know how to do their job. Most of all they miss the chance to take vacations and contact their loved ones, the internet is quite slow, civil communications lines are regularly jammed, contact can be made only at night, but no guarantees of service. That’s why the services of chaplain and psychologist helps them feel better, then we can contact the soldiers’ families, pass on their news,” the chaplain said.
Latvia’s soldiers are deployed in a Christian neighborhood, located adjacently to a Muslim one, where Christian residents are advised to avoid setting foot.
“The locals are glad to have our soldiers there, we have no historic resentment between us, like with the once-colonial French. Our forces are out on foot patrols, which means direct contact with residents, greetings and conversations,” Plavins went on to describe the mission’s daily realities.
“A good example from August – a large-scale hostile assembly of demonstrators facing our soldiers told them: ‘we won’t attack, we respect you’,” he recalled.
The working language of the mission is French, therefore soldiers with language skills have the added responsibility of translating for their comrades.
“One of our guys has even learned the local language and while he’s on patrol the locals greet him with special affection. It’s a great way to make friends, learn their thoughts. The people there are very open, use lots of gestures and speak in a loud voice,” the NBS priest-in-chief related.
Plavins observed that the CAR is beset by poverty and massive unemployment, with many people forced into petty theft and racketeering just to feed their families.
He also noted that the climate there is completely different from Afghanistan, where the soldiers had served previously. Dealing with the heat and humidity, as well as malaria-bearing mosquitos is the primary challenge. However, facilities for hosting the soldiers are far less developed than bases in Afghanistan. The soldiers live in retrofitted containers and minimal sanitary conditions have been provided, after previously deployed Estonian soldiers improved on a tent-base before the Latvians arrived.
Latvia announced this week that its soldiers would be pulled out of the mission and returned home a few days after Independence Day celebrations November 18.