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Last Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006, 07:11 GMT 08:11 UK
Indian women to keep Liberia peace
Sanjoy Majumder
By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC correspondent, Delhi

The policewomen to be deployed in Liberia undergoing training in Indian capital, Delhi
The policewomen will tackle riots and crowds
Under a blazing midday sun, more than a hundred Indian women are being put through their paces in a special training facility north of the capital, Delhi.

Smartly attired in brilliant blue battle fatigues, this is an all-female police unit that is shortly to be deployed alongside UN peacekeepers in Liberia.

There they will form part of a specialised unit, the Formed Police Unit, which in the past has been used as a rapid reaction force, to control riots and crowds and also to train local police forces.

But it is only the second time that an all-female unit is being deployed in peacekeeping operations and the first in the volatile West African region.

"We think it's a breakthrough that India has expressed its willingness and it's also good for our Liberia mission because it brings to that police operation these officers who are trained, who are capable, who are women and who can bring the best of what the UN police is to the component there," UN police advisor Mark Kroeker says.

Battle-scarred veterans

The Indian unit is made up women drawn from across the country and experienced in battling insurgencies in Kashmir and the north-east.

All of them have volunteered for the job at hand.

"It is a fantastic opportunity for us," says Poonam Gupta, who has been with India's elite Rapid Action Force since 1997.

Commandant Seema Dhundiya
We know that the situation in Liberia is volatile .. But we all fully trained and equipped to deal with it
Seema Dhundiya, commandant

"It is a chance to extend my experiences to other parts of the world and also an opportunity for India to participate in international operations."

Commandant Seema Dhundiya is the leader of the unit.

A veteran of anti-insurgency operations, this 39-year-old mother of two is quietly confident of handling any situation they are confronted with.

"We know that the situation in Liberia is volatile and that it is in a post-conflict situation.

"But we all fully trained and equipped to deal with it."

The extensive drills include training in the use of firearms, including light-machine guns and assault rifles, as well as unarmed combat.

"We are aware that they could face potentially dangerous situations so we are preparing them," says P Jayaraman, who is in charge of the training programme.

"Part of the reason that they are going to be so well-equipped is so that they will remain safe," he adds.

Family support

Twenty-one year old Kumari Ranjana is from the eastern state of Bihar, one of India's most lawless regions, and has never left the country.

"I am looking forward to it and no I'm not scared," the diminutive woman says with a smile.

The policewomen to be deployed in Liberia undergoing training in Indian capital, Delhi
Many of the women are married and have spouses in police or the army

"I'm happy to be representing India and also it is a chance for me to see the world," she adds.

The women say they are being strongly supported by their families who are backing their decision to travel to Liberia.

"Our families are quite used to us spending a lot of time away from home. We are often deployed in volatile areas within India where families are not allowed," says Commandant Dhundiya.

Many of the women are married and have spouses serving in police or special units or even the armed forces.

They recognise that they are part of a deliberate effort to increase the participation of women in peacekeeping operations.

"It enhances our access to vulnerable populations by having women in UN missions and also sends a message to the post-conflict societies where we work that women officers can have any position and play an role in a police organisation," says UN police advisor Mark Kroeker, who has served with the Los Angeles Police Department for more than 30 years.

In Delhi, as the women police unit head back to their barracks after another stiff day of training, the mood is upbeat.

"We are very confident that we will meet the expectations of our unit and our country," says Seema Dhundiya.

"And yes, the UN's expectations as well. We'll make our country proud."

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