18 January 2019
A Manawatu-based New Zealand Defence Force officer serving as a United Nations (UN) peacekeeper in South Sudan is enjoying the challenge despite the tenuous security situation in the country.
As a UN Military Observer in a field office of the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), Major Dale Pyle works with personnel from 14 other countries, including Bangladesh, Germany, the Philippines and Thailand. He is based in Yambio, a city in south-western South Sudan close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We serve as liaison between UNMISS, the South Sudanese Defence Force and opposition forces,” Major Pyle said.
“We also observe and report on the current security situation and alleged violations of human rights and the status of forces agreement, and support the implementation of the new peace agreement signed last September.”
Ongoing violence has tempered hopes that the new peace deal, which is meant to end a civil war that began in 2013, will hold.
The UN estimates almost 400,000 people have died since the start of the conflict. The fighting and atrocities have forced more than four million South Sudanese to flee their homes and half the country’s population face severe hunger.
“Without the UN presence here, the devastation and humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict could have been worse,” Major Pyle said.
The local people were welcoming and hospitable despite the immense challenges they faced as a result of the vicious five-year civil war, he said. During patrols around Yambio, villagers often offered him and fellow UN peacekeepers fried bread and steaming cups of coffee.
“My interactions with the South Sudanese have been positive. They are happy and welcoming, and the children wave and smile wherever we go.”
Working in a multinational environment has exposed Major Pyle to a range of other cultures and exotic food.
“We often share meals,” he said. “So far I’ve tasted Ethiopian coffee, palm wine, Mongolian dumplings, Indian curries and barbecued goat, which was prepared by our Kenyan colleague for Christmas lunch.”
Dust and mosquitoes are among the day-to-day challenges he has to deal with.
“There is a lot of dust and this can affect everything from visibility to breathing and vehicles’ air filters,” he said.
“Mosquitoes also abound. This means we need to be extremely vigilant about the risk of transmitting mosquito-borne diseases, which can be difficult when you are meeting and interacting with numerous people every day.”
Born in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, Major Pyle migrated to New Zealand with his family when he was 16 and settled in Palmerston North. He enlisted in the New Zealand Army in 2007.
“A lot of my family served in the military. As such, I grew up hearing stories and felt drawn to the spirit of service, comradeship and challenges that life in the military offers.”