Uruguay has distinguished itself in peacebuilding through its involvement in various missions with the United Nations and other international organizations. Headquartered in Rome, the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) is an independent international organization created as the result of an accord between Egypt and Israel, tasked with the responsibility of keeping peace in the Sinai.
The origins of MFO lie in Annex I of the 1979 Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel, in which the parties committed themselves to requesting that the United Nations provide a force and observers to supervise the implementation of the treaty. Uruguay has a military contingent in an area of fundamental importance for security in the Middle East. To learn more about this mission, Diálogo interviewed Uruguayan Army Lieutenant Colonel Guillermo Rodríguez, the commander of the Transportation and Engineering Unit (TREU).
Diálogo: What is the MFO, when was it instituted, and what is its mission? Which international contingents make up its mission?
Lieutenant Colonel Guillermo Rodríguez, the commander of the Transportation and Engineering Unit: The origin of the Multinational Force and Observers dates back to early August 1981, due to the need to monitor compliance with the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel on March 26, 1979, creating a multinational force capable of observing and verifying compliance imposed in the aforementioned treaty, and preventing any violation of its terms. The force is composed of 12 nations: Australia, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, England, Fiji, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, the United States, and [Uruguay]. Relations among these nations are extremely respectful, with a mutual sense of brotherhood, and with English as the official language.
Diálogo: When did the first Uruguayan contingents arrive in Sinai?
Lt. Col. Rodríguez: The first Uruguayan contingent was deployed at the end of January 1982. It comprised 100 service members, and its first leader was then-Lieutenant Colonel Juan Grosso.
Diálogo: What is Uruguay’s contingent like today and what is its responsibility in this mission? How do they carry out their duties and what equipment do they use? Where is the Uruguayan force based?
Lt. Col. Rodríguez: The Uruguayan contingent, called “TREU,” which is the English acronym for Transportation and Engineering Unit, comprises 41 service members who perform two key functions for the force. The first is overland transportation, and the second is providing support with specialized engineering personnel.
The transportation unit’s job is basically to provide experienced drivers for moving personnel and supplies to different MFO sites located along the Sinai Peninsula. In turn, the engineering unit is responsible for road maintenance and improvement, since the roads are constantly obstructed by the movement of sand dunes. The unit is also responsible for building any fortifications the force may require.
Currently, the Uruguayan personnel are mostly deployed in the city of Sharm el Sheikh, in the south of the peninsula, and the rest are at various sites along the areas bordering Israel, in what is called “Zone C.”
Diálogo: What are the challenges and difficulties of operating in the Sinai region?
Lt. Col. Rodríguez: The challenges and difficulties mainly revolve around the current security situation in the peninsula today, due to constant clashes with insurgent groups. In recent years the situation in the region has evolved unfavorably, becoming a very unstable and unpredictable area in terms of the evolution of future events. Therefore, MFO has taken the protection of its personnel quite seriously and has invested a lot in that, increasing protective measures and responses in dangerous situations and trying to minimize any direct or collateral damage to the force.
Diálogo: How are Egyptian and Israeli service members able to communicate with each other?
Lt. Col. Rodríguez: Even though the official language of both nations is not English, there is a large segment of the population that understands that language. In any case, MFO has a liaison office responsible for interacting with both armies. Within the force, there are also various translators and interpreters who facilitate communication with the Army and with the population whenever needed.
Diálogo: What does sending troops to Sinai represent for Uruguay?
Lt. Col. Rodríguez: It is a large responsibility and great source of pride to be able to continue to contribute to world peace with armed troops and to be among the first pioneers to do so. Since shortly after the United Nations was established in 1945, our nation has been providing military observers, initially from the Army, to be deployed in the territory of Kashmir, on the border between India and Pakistan (1952).
Our international involvement kept growing, and a contingent of drivers for vehicles belonging to the Sinai Peninsula was deployed in January 1982. That development established the first deployment of a large contingent of Uruguayan troops on another continent, carrying out peacekeeping missions.