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Soldier dies fighting alien war

New Delhi, June 14: An Indian soldier was killed and two injured seriously in a crossfire between warring Congolese troops and tribal militia in the central African nation where India has deployed army and air force contingents for UN operations.

The killing of Lance Naik Vishnu Bhagwan Shinde and, before him an Uruguayan soldier and nine Bangladeshis, is a classic example of soldiers dying fighting other people’s wars.

India’s army headquarters is currently working out the logistics to send another brigade-plus force to Sudan to be deployed at or near strife-torn Darfur province.

A stray bullet killed Shinde who was patrolling on a UN vehicle with Lance Naik Lakshvir Singh and Naik Amar Singh in the North Kivu province on Monday night. The soldiers were caught in a battle between the Congolese army and rebel militia near the border with Rwanda.

The two injured soldiers have been hospitalised, the UN mission in Congo, MONUC, has informed defence headquarters in New Delhi. There was no official word on whether Shinde’s body will be brought back to India.

Shinde is the first casualty since India increased its troop presence in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the size of an infantry brigade (nearly 3,000 soldiers) under a UN chapter VII mandate that authorises military intervention for peace enforcement.

Dying for the cause of the UN despite getting embroiled in other people’s wars is not a political issue but a badge of honour in countries like India. A deployment under a UN mandate bolsters “national prestige” for third world countries and enables India to strengthen its case for a seat in the Security Council.

For the soldiers of the Indian Army, a year’s deployment for a UN mission means earning more money than they can hope to make in 10 years of regular service.

The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has seen an estimated four million killed because of violence and starvation and hundreds of thousands of instances of atrocities on women and children has transformed UN peacekeepers into third-party military interventionists. The escalating violence has meant that UN peacekeepers are no longer neutral observers but are sucked into the strife there.

But there have been instances when countries have withdrawn troops from UN military operations that began taking a heavy toll. India itself pulled out troops from Sierra Leone four years ago. France pulled out its contingent from Lebanon before India deployed a force there.

Sources in army headquarters said they were fully aware of the deteriorating military situation in Congo.

Reports reaching here said Shinde’s patrol was some 30 km from Goma town near the border with Rwanda when it was caught in a battle between the Congolese army and rebel militia. The three soldiers were from the 3 Mahar battalion and were deployed in January this year.

The brigade-sized infantry contingent from the Indian Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo is made up of soldiers from three battalions ' 10 Bihar, 22 Grenadiers and 3 Mahar ' commanded by Brigadier Vikram Puri. Congo’s peace enforcers are largely made up of troops from the UN’s poorer member states.

Part of the Indian deployment is in North Kivu where there is little evidence of violence abating despite the UN mission swelling to 16,000 troops.

Critics of international UN military missions say developing nations contribute the manpower. The US, for instance, is the largest contributor for UN missions in cash but does not send its troops. In Congo particularly, UN troops face some of the greatest risks to life and limb.

On Sunday, an Uruguayan soldier was said to have been accidentally killed. On February 25, nine Bangladeshi soldiers were killed in an ambush by tribal militia. India also has an air force contingent with four attack helicopters in active combat giving close air support to Pakistani troops. The helicopters have been shot at.

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