New Delhi: United Nations Assistant Secretary General Tony Banbury has praised the bravery of Indian jawans killed while fighting rebels in South Sudan earlier this month. The soldiers were part of a UN peacekeeping mission.
"The morale of the Indian soldiers is very high. I was able to visit the affected contingent today and met the Commanding Officer. He told us that the morale of the soldiers was very high. These soldiers fought valiantly in the face of this unprovoked ambush, they were dramatically outnumbered... about 200 attackers to 35 soldiers and they fought very greatly. All the soldiers fought back," Mr Banbury told NDTV.
"The killings would have been much worse had it not been for the bravery of these soldiers. I think they ought to feel very proud of what they have done even though they are all devastated by the loss of the five UN peacekeepers," he added.
The Indian Army personnel, including a Lieutenant Colonel, were killed and four others were injured when their 32-member convoy was ambushed by armed men in Gurmuck in the volatile state of Jonglei in South Sudan. Their bodies arrived in India on Thursday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed anguish over the killing of the five peacekeepers. "I pay tributes to our brave soldiers," Dr Singh said in his condolence message to the bereaved families.
There are around 2,200 Indian Army personnel comprising two battalions, one based in Jonglei and the other in Malakkal, Upper Nile, on the border with Sudan.
Since South Sudan got independence in July 2011, it has witnessed ethnic strife, with Pibor county, the main base of UN peacekeeping force, being the centre of much of the violence.
India is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping forces around the world. Mr Banbury today said that the UN cannot function without the contribution of Indian peacekeepers.