Back in history: Soldier recalls mission

Capt Jese Vetiduadua, the first Fijian officer to visit a Palestine Liberation Organization camp. Picture: FILE

Republic of Fiji Military Forces intelligence officer, Capt Jese Vetiduadua, was believed to be the first Fiji soldier to liaise with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during peacekeeping duties in the Middle East.

Upon returning from Lebanon in 1979, Capt Vetiduadua shared the experiences Fijian soldiers underwent while on peacekeeping duties.

In an article in The Fiji Times on February 2, 1979, he spoke about the dealings, the routine and the occasional misunderstandings in patrolling the United Nations peacekeeping zone.

He said within the first weeks, the first Lebanon draft of Fijian soldiers developed “cordial” relations with the PLO with regular liaison contacts.

But the Fijian men had to keep their wits about them when dealing with the guerillas. Guerillas would come up with all sorts of ploys to smuggle their weapons through. One of their favourites was to bring their arms to the border and wait until nightfall to smuggle them through.

“Our boys were quick in detecting their tricks and found ways to counter them,” he said.

“The guerillas would never use the same trick again if they were caught once at a checkpoint.” A major problem when the draft first arrived was to recognise a PLO guerilla when they were in civilian clothes.

“Without uniforms, they were just Arabs, but after a while the boys could distinguish a guerilla.”

The Fijian soldiers had very little information about the PLO when they arrived, so Capt Vetiduadua arranged a visit to the PLO headquarters through a liaison officer.

“I thought that the best way to get information was to go to them. “We exchanged information and a few deals were made.”

The guerillas were amazed when they learned that Christians and Muslims in Fiji worked side by side.

“A library was set up in the battalion where pamphlets and information about the Arabs were kept for the boys’ reference.”

Despite this, there were still some clashes with guerillas.

“Most arose from misunderstandings,” the captain said. Once a Fiji soldier shot at the car of the PLO supreme commander of Southern Lebanon, Col. Bilal.

“The boys did not know that there was an agreement that PLO commanders were to pass checkpoints without being stopped.”

The shot punctured a rear tyre. There was another incident in which a battalion patrol convoy was blown up by a booby-trap.

The captain described the sabotage as work of amateurs or probably of village roughnecks who did it for kicks.

A string was attached to a grenade tied to a tree, and was tied across the road. The first car was blown up but luckily there were no injuries.

Capt Vetiduadua said another major problem was that the PLO was an umbrella organisation which had seven factions under it.

“A deal with a faction would not necessarily be honoured by the other factions, that was why there were clashes with the Fiji soldiers.”

Capt Vetiduadua described the Arabs as very temperamental and if provoked, they would not forget but would seek revenge.

“They are nice people when you are nicer to them but are very cunning. Great care should be taken when dealing with them.”

Even so, Capt Vetiduadua was determined to establish his reputation among the guerillas and was able to do so.

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