We Will Remember Them
Soldiers of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) currently serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have conducted a dawn service to commemorate the deaths of Fijians who died while serving there.
The service also commemorated the deaths of 110 men, women and children who died during an Israeli military operation called Grapes of Wrath on April 18, 1996.
The service was held at the Fiji Memorial site near Qana Village in south Lebanon. An RFMF position nearby codenamed QANA, where the people had taken refuge, was shelled by Israeli Defence Force/South Lebanon Army (IDF/SLA) on the day.
Accounts of this massacre were still clear in the minds of Eroni Matanikoroca, a former Fijian soldier currently employed with UNIFIL, and Warrant Officer Class 2 Vatuwai – a current member of the RFMF contingent with UNIFIL.
Mr Matanikoroca recalled that several attempts to rescue people caught in fire proved futile because shelling and rocket fire continued in the position on that fatal day. Four RFMF soldiers were seriously wounded as a result of this incident.
Presenting a wreath on behalf of the Mayor and the people of Qana was Mr Mohammed Jaffa, an official of Qana Municipality and former language assistant for Fiji BATT.
In his statement, he said Fijians opened their gates to welcome families trying to escape from death and seeking refuge and shelter.
Mr Jaffa said the residents would never forget how the Fijians received them with kindness, doing their best to cater for all of them. He expressed his deepest gratitude to the Government, the RFMF and the people of Fiji for the sacrifice made throughout the past years, adding that the people of Qana would always consider Fijians as brothers in their hearts and minds and regarded the fallen soldiers as martyrs.
Mr Eroni Matanikoroca presented a wreath on behalf of the Fiji Ex-Serviceman and Major Aseri Rokoura presented a wreath on behalf of the RFMF, the Government and the people of Fiji.
Officer Commanding Fiji Company Major Vakatale and the President of Fijian Community in Lebanon, Jope Kikau, also presented their wreaths on the graves of the civilians who were massacred that day.
The graves are co-located alongside the Fijian Memorial.
Fiji currently has increased contribution to UN peacekeeping with 146 men deployed in South Lebanon under UNIFIL and one Officer with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) Observer Group Lebanon.
RFMF initially served in UNFIL from 1978 to 2002, before rejoining the mission last year.