No reason to be in Yemen

I REFER to the letter “Help bring peace to Yemen” (The Star, Aug 26) by Datuk Dr Fauziah Mohd Taib, a former colleague of mine in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

I fully agree with Dr Fauziah that we have no business setting up another anti-terrorism centre in Malaysia at the behest of any country under whatever guise. Malaysia already has its own Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter Terrorism (SEARCCT). In fact, I headed a task force within Wisma Putra that worked out the terms of reference for this organisation. We even visited a suitable site for the location of the SEARCCT.

At one stage, I was also offered the post of director for this centre but I did not take it. Instead, I became High Commissioner of Malaysia to Singapore (2003-2008) at the height of our last water spat and a host of other bilateral issues with Singapore.

It is heartening to note that the King Salman Centre for Interna­tional Peace (KSCIP) is in the process of being shut down. In the first place, we should never have agreed or acquiesced to the establishment of this centre to serve the international interests of one country (Saudi Arabia) and the domestic interests of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

This bold move will put back on track our traditional non-aligned foreign policy and will also help restore international credibility to our foreign policy which, in recent years, seemed to have been lost in the wilderness with no clear sense of direction. But that is another story.

By the same token, we also have no business whatsoever to be embroiled in the civil war in Yemen on the side of one country (again Saudi Arabia) without the formal endorsement of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which is the only international body that has the authority to sanction UN peacekeeping operations (UNPKOs) around the world.

A country or a coalition of countries that initially enters a conflict zone unilaterally always subsequently brings the matter up to the UNSC to obtain a formal UNSC resolution that would provide the legal basis and legitimacy for its action. The UNSC also activates the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO) (once headed by the late Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general), which provides the requisite back-up, including logistics, for all peacekeeping operations in the world.

UNPKOs, a subject I know very well from my Wisma Putra days, are expensive undertakings. I served in Malaysia’s UN Missions in both New York and Geneva and also once headed the Multilateral Political Affairs Division in Wisma Putra which worked closely with our Defence Ministry on all the UN peacekeeping operations that Malaysia was involved in. I also held discussions with officials from the UNDPKO in New York when our troops were heavily involved in Bosnia and Somalia. Little did I know then that the UN would one day ask for my services in a peacekeeping operation.

I was offered the post of chief of staff to the UNSG’s special representative to East Timor, Sergio Vieira de Mello, in the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). I served two years (2000-2001) in Dili.

Najib certainly has first-hand knowledge of UNPKOs, having held the Defence Minister portfolio twice and for a long time. So does former Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Najib’s cousin.

So the former PM and former Defence Minister knew exactly what they were doing when they despatched Malaysian troops to Yemen on the side of the Saudis without any UN mandate.

Sad to say, this decision has relegated our valiant Malaysian troops to the level of mercenaries, fighting alongside the Saudis and their other allies.

Since our maiden participation in the UN peacekeeping operation in Congo in 1960, Malaysian Armed Forces personnel had slowly built up a reputation for their strong discipline, reliability and valour. But this was not without the loss of Malaysian lives and military equipment, as we experienced in Somalia where we lost one of our soldiers and four armoured personnel carriers. In that operation on Oct 3-4, 1993, our soldiers rescued 88 US Rangers trapped in Mogadishu.

Since Congo, Malaysian troops have participated in over 30 peacekeeping operations in various parts of the world. As of Jan 30, 2017, we have lost 18 lives in these operations.

Our soldiers are very much in demand. In 1998, Malaysia was the sixth largest troop-contributing country in the world, and there were occasions when we had to turn down UN requests for further troop contributions.

During my stint in East Timor, where I was part of the civilian component of the peacekeeping operation, I saw how our troops (and civilian police too) performed their tasks with a deep sense of commitment.

Malaysia has always participated in UN peacekeeping operations with the full endorsement of the UN Security Council. But sending our troops in the dark to participate in a unilateral military adventure initiated by one country is indeed an aberration that we should immediately arrest. I would therefore strongly urge that we get our troops out of Yemen immediately and restore to our soldiers the dignity they always had. They are not mercenaries!


Former High Commissioner of Malaysia to Singapore

Kuala Lumpur