Navy Lieutenant Andrew Wilson (in blue hat) on patrol in Leer, Southern Sudan (WN 09-0041-100)
1 November 2009
by LT Andrew Wilson (Navy Reserve)
It is hard to believe I boarded an Air New Zealand domestic flight from the calm of Tauranga just a few weeks ago, yet here I am looking out from the fourth floor of a building overlooking the bustle of the Sudan's capital city, Khartoum.
The contrast is dramatic in the extreme and yet there is more to come, since Khartoum was but a stepping stone to my final deployment Area of Responsibility (AOR), which is Team Site Bentiu (in Southern Sudan).
The United Nations is in Sudan at the request of the Sudanese Government, and New Zealand is supporting the UN by providing three personnel. New Zealand has been here since 2005 when a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the warring Northern and Southern Sudanese forces.
The UN is running an Integrated Mission here in Sudan and what that means is it's not a Military-led Mission but has all facets of the UN within the mission, such as human rights, protection of civilians, electoral assistance etc all working towards their specific outputs directives, under one umbrella.
My role as an UNMO (UN Military Observer) is to monitor and verify the peace agreement within my AOR. This is done by short range patrols, long range patrols (where we load up the 4x4 and disappear into the wilderness for days on end) or by air patrols where we disappear into the wilderness via Mi-8 or Mi-17, big Russian-built helicopters.
There are also UN boat patrols on the Nile run by the Bangladesh Navy, however they aren’t near me, so I probably won’t see much of them. Sudan is a really big country, about 2.5 million square kilometres, and is about ten times the size of New Zealand ... so there's a lot of ground to cover!
My observations about Sudan to date:
Khartoum: It is big and dusty. The traffic is crazy. There are road rules but I think these are guidelines only. ‘Inshallah’, is the best way to describe traffic flow. All the cars here are Toyotas, including the Nissans etc. I know because they all have Toyota badges. Even the tuktuks are Toyotas and they are 4x4’s. Again the badges say so, even they only have three wheels.
The heat: It is hot here. Seriously hot. We have, however, worked out that there is not much difference between 45 and 55. 45 is hot. 50 is hot, and 55 is hot. Because it is hot, things get done slowly. For example, I saw a dog chasing a cat. They were both walking, and this was in the cool of the morning. After this it got hot. I have just been allocated to TS Bentiu, the easiest way to describe the site is that it is easy to find ... look for the swamp the size of the North Island, and it is located in the middle of it!! I am deploying there in the next few days, and am looking forward to the challenges ahead.
Sudan really is an experience I will not forget in a hurry, and is quite different to my last posting in the Navy!