UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations has honoured at a solemn ceremony 128 military, police and civilian personnel from 38 countries, including seven Pakistanis, who lost their lives while serving in peacekeeping operations during 2017.

Friday's ceremony marked the annual International Day of Peacekeepers during which the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal was awarded posthumously to the peacekeepers who have given their lives for the cause of peace, during the preceding year.

This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of UN Peacekeeping, the world body's flagship enterprise described by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “a proven investment in global peace, security and prosperity."

Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, accepted the awards on behalf of the families of the seven fallen Pakistani peacekeepers.

They are: Sepoy Hazrat BILAL, Naik Abdul GHAFOOR and Naik Muhammad ALI who were deployed with the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA); Sepoy Muhammad Ishtiaq ABBASI, Sepoy Tariq JAVED, and Naik Atta Ur REHMAN who served with the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO); and Sepoy Yasir ABBAS from the African Union – United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

Pakistan is one of largest contributors of uniformed personnel to UN Peacekeeping.

It currently contributes nearly 6,000 military and police personnel to the UN peacekeeping operations in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Western Sahara.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General , who led a moment of silence to remember the fallen peacekeepers, expressed his “deepest condolences and appreciation” to the family members and friends of those who died, as well as his “deepest sorrow and greatest appreciation” to the countries that contributed the troops and police officers.

“We express our gratitude to the more than one million men and women who have served under the UN flag, saving countless lives," Guterres said. "We honour the more than 3,700 blue helmets who have paid the ultimate price over the past seven decades. And we pay tribute to the 14 peacekeeping missions working around the clock to protect people and advance the cause of peace.”

At a time of increasingly complex conflicts and rising peacekeeper fatalities, the UN chief said: “As we recognise a legacy of service and sacrifice around the world, I am also committed to taking action to make our operations more effective and safer in today’s challenging environments.”

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that UN peacekeepers – civilian, police, men and women, military personnel – save lives every day. "Today, we honour those who have sacrificed their lives in service to peace. Their service and sacrifice inspires us to work harder to support a sustainable peace in some of the world’s most complex and challenging places,” he added

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who risk their lives every day in service to others, and we grieve with the families and nations of our fallen colleagues,” Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Atul Khare, said.

“But beyond gratitude, we owe our peacekeepers all the support we can muster to ensure they are well-equipped, well-trained and well-prepared to complete their missions successfully.”

The General Assembly established the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers in 2002 to pay tribute to all men and women serving in peacekeeping, and to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.

The Assembly designated May 29 as the Day because it was the date in 1948 when the first UN peacekeeping mission - the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation - began operations in the Middle East.