The United Nations Friday honoured at a solemn ceremony 126 soldiers, including five Pakistanis, who paid the ultimate price while serving UN peacekeeping missions around the world.

The ceremony marked the annual International Day of Peacekeepers at which tributes were paid to nearly 125,000 peacekeepers, including 91,000 military personnel, 13,000 police officers as well as 17,000 international civilian and national staff serving on four continents, doing everything from clearing landmines and delivering aid to helping refugees and supporting free and fair elections.

Pakistan is the second largest contributor of military and police personnel to peacekeeping, with  more than 8,100 personnel serving in the UN operations in the Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan and Western Sahara.

Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi,  Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN, received the medals for the fallen Pakistan Army soldiers — Naib Subedar Saleem  Akhter and Lance Naik Ibrar Mehmood, who served with the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Sepoy  Nazar Abbas and Lance Havildar Ghulam  Nabi, who served with the United Nations Misson in  Liberia (UNMIL); and  Sepoy  Fahad Iftikhar, who was deployed with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid tributes to the men and women in UN peacekeeping operations, saying he envisioned a modern, global force that can effectively tackle emerging peace and security challenges. “Of all the ceremonies that the UN organizes, this is perhaps the most solemn and most difficult,” the UN chief said.  “But in many ways it is the most inspiring.  The peacekeeping community gathers together to honour courageous men and women who lost their lives while defending the most vulnerable people in some of the most dangerous places on earth.  Their sacrifice, and the way that they lived their lives, makes us all proud and spurs us on to work harder to ensure that their lives were not lost in vain.   

“UN Peacekeeping will continue to carry risks and sadly this will not be the last time we gather together to mourn.  Our peacekeepers carry a heavy burden for all of us.” Herve Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said:  “We pay tribute to those courageous men and women who have lost their lives while serving on our Peacekeeping Missions.

I express my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who have paid the ultimate price. Today, we are witnessing our largest deployment in the history of UN Peacekeeping.

This is a testament of the international community’s faith in Peacekeeping as a fundamental tool in helping to bring peace and security” .

At UN Headquarters in New York, Ban also presided over a wreath-laying ceremony in honour of all peacekeepers who lost their lives last year. Ambassador Lodhi and Indian Ambassadors Asoke Kumar Mukerji stood together to pay tribute to the fallen in a rare display of camaraderie at the ceremony

 “Let us also remember that the vast majority of UN peacekeepers hail from developing countries,” the secretary-general said. “I thank those nations in particular for sending their sons and daughters to serve proudly under our blue flag. And I ask the developed nations – which have greater resources – to carry their fair share of this collective burden and resume their historic role in UN peacekeeping.”