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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 September, 2004, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Sri Lankan troops head to Haiti
By Chloe Arnold
BBC correspondent in Colombo

UN and Sri Lankan flags during the ceremony
This will be the country's first major overseas assignment
Sri Lanka's first major overseas peacekeeping contingent has left to join the UN mission in Haiti.

About 750 troops will join the effort to restore stability after Haiti's president was forced out of power earlier this year.

In a moving ceremony the first 150 soldiers and their families gathered on sun-baked tarmac at Colombo airport.

The leaders of Sri Lanka's many religious communities stood by as Lt Gen Shantha Kottegoda wished them well.

The soldiers' children waved paper flags and wiped away tears as the Sri Lankan and UN standards were folded and handed to the head of the mission.

A UN peacekeeping mission with about 7,000 soldiers and 1,500 civilian police took over in Haiti in June to bring the situation under control after the ousting of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February.

The French embassy in Colombo held classes in conversational French for the troops before their deployment.

Until now, Sri Lanka's military has been locked in a decades-long battle with Tamil Tiger rebels, but a truce was signed in 2002 paving the way for the Sri Lankan military to carry out peacekeeping duties at home and abroad.

The BBC's Nick Bryant
"This has long been a troubled paradise"

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Country profile: Sri Lanka
14 Aug 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Sri Lanka
13 Jul 04  |  Country profiles

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