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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 16:17 GMT
The cream of UN peacekeepers

By Roland Buerk
BBC correspondent in Dhaka

Bangladeshi soldiers
Bangladeshi soldiers have a reputation for being well disciplined

Demand for UN peacekeeping forces around the world has surged in recent years.

Speaking in 2004, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said new operations had been authorised in Liberia, Ivory Coast, Haiti and Burundi.

The UN was also planning a substantial mission in Sudan, he said, and was looking to strengthen its force in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In total, he said that the UN would need an additional 30,000 uniformed personnel on top of 50,000 already deployed.

International exposure

So far, it has been poorer countries that have contributed most of those men.

Bangladesh and Pakistan have the largest contingents on UN missions by far. Between them they have deployed nearly 17,000 troops.

Bangladeshi peacekeepers in Sierra Leone
Bangladeshi peacekeepers are based in 12 countries

The United States in comparison has provided 430.

For Bangladeshis, the peacekeepers - who are on duty in 12 countries across three continents - are a source of pride.

"It is giving a good exposure to our country," said Flight Lieutenant Abu Saleh Mohammad Mannafi, a helicopter pilot with Bangladesh's air force.

"We're earning a good name and fame for the army, air force and navy as well as contributing to our economy. So it is doing a world of good for our country."

Remote locations

Flt Lt Mannafi has just returned from a tour of duty with UNMISET, the United Nations Mission In East Timor.

His helicopter, normally in camouflage, is still painted white with UN emblazoned on the side.

He flew sorties carrying troops to remote locations and air lifting casualties to hospital.

Bangladeshi soldier
UN peacekeeping is a source of pride for Bangladeshis

The UN says Bangladeshi soldiers are in demand because they have proved themselves to be highly disciplined.

There are far fewer complaints against them than soldiers from many other countries.

Bangladesh's minor role in world affairs is also an advantage in peacekeeping. The country has few enemies so its troops are readily accepted by local populations.

In return Bangladesh's army is well paid by the United Nations. Peacekeeping earns the country $200m a year.

Analysts in Bangladesh say there is another benefit. A role abroad has discouraged the army from meddling in politics at home.

Bangladesh has a history of coups and military dictatorships but has been a democracy since 1990.

Price to pay

"They have gained international prestige, they have gained international legitimacy," said Professor CR Abrar, of the department of international relations at Dhaka University.

"So I think they would think twice or thrice before engaging in such adventurism. So in that respect I think it would have a deterring effect."

But there has been a price to pay, in lives.

We're earning a good name and fame for the army, air force and navy as well as definitely contributing to our economy
Flight Lieutenant Abu Saleh Mohammad Mannaf

More than 50 Bangladeshi soldiers have been killed while on active UN duty, leaving children without fathers, wives as widows.

Major Imtiaz was killed in a plane crash in Benin last year alongside 14 of his colleagues.

He was supposed to have been travelling home on leave three days earlier but was delayed.

Shortly before he got on board the flight he e-mailed his wife to say he would be home soon.

"Nothing can repair this loss," says his widow, Shaila Nigar Siddique, pausing to recover her composure.

"It took a long time to come to terms with what happened. But I console myself that he died in a good cause, for peacekeeping."

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