Finnish peacekeepers prepare to leave South Lebanon
One-year mandate ends this week
A shining white row of Pasi armoured vehicles stands at the entrance of the Finnish-Irish battalion in South Lebanon.
"They have been serviced and washed, and are just waiting to be shipped to Finland", explains military civil servant Joni Malkamäki and shows his guests into the camp.
Personnel at the camp in Marzajun are preparing to leave for home this week. The hospital and exercise gym have already been dismantled, and some of the office facilities have been packed up.
"This is our last big effort", says Mika Niemi, chief of the pioneer company, showing a monument that will be left behind to commemorate the one year that the Finns were in the area.
"The stone weighs eight tons and it is embedded in 25 tons of concrete."
The main Finnish force is leaving Lebanon at the end of October. A handful will stay behind to finish dismantling the camp.
"We are leaving in good spirits. It was decided from the beginning that we would come here to built facilities for others, and then leave. Now the mission has been accomplished. The engineers are top-notch professionals in construction. There is no point keeping people like that here just replacing light bulbs", explains the battalion's commander Osmo Toivanen.
Most of the equipment will be packed into a ship. Some will be auctioned off, and some will be donated. The nearby Marzajun fire brigade will get 70 fire extinguishers as a gift from the Finns.
"I am very grateful for the gift. Our fire brigade is poor and our equipment is old. Our activities are mainly on a volunteer basis because there is no money to pay firefighters", says fire chief Said Nahra, adding that he regrets to see the Finns leave.
Also lamenting the Finns' departure are dozens of local interpreters, cooks, and cleaners who worked for the Finns. The United Nations is a major employer in South Lebanon; more than 40 local people worked for the Finnish peacekeepers alone.
"Work will continue only for two of us. The others have nothing in sight", sighs Nassima Nahra, the battalion's interpreter.
Tuomas Miskala says that his mother will probably be relieved to see him come back intact. He refers to a bombing that took place just a few kilometres from the Finnish camp in the summer, in which six Spanish peacekeepers were killed.
"I never felt that I was in danger. The most frightening situation was probably when my roommate found a scorpion in his boot."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Training commences for Finnish peacekeepers bound for Lebanon (28.9.2006)
Parliament groups support Lebanon peacekeeping operation (6.9.2006)
Government puts forward plan for Lebanon peacekeeping operation (5.9.2006)
Finland prepares to send engineer company to Lebanon (21.8.2006)
Jerusalem memorial ceremony for four UN observers killed in Israeli bombing (31.7.2006)
Finnish-Irish battalion ready for their task in Southern Lebanon (2.11.2006)
Finnish base being set up on hills of Southern Lebanon (30.10.2006)
Main group of Finnish Lebanon peacekeepers report for service (9.10.2006)