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Finnish troops depart for Central African crisis management operation

Helsinki Times - Nine soldiers and four building specialists gathered around the laptop of Colonel Kalle Seppälä at the Helsinki Airport on Monday evening, as Seppälä showed them images from the Central African Republic. After months of preparations and delays, Finland is finally set to send its troops to the conflict-ridden country to participate in an EU crisis management operation.

“We're indeed finally going,” Seppälä smiled, as the prattle of the men filled the departure lounge.

Meanwhile in Turku, the supplies of the unit were being loaded into a cargo aircraft.

“At this point, we'll have three cars, and food and water for 30 days. In addition, we have ammunition and explosives for clearance projects,” Seppälä told.

And a sauna, of course.

“It's become a bit of a joke, but of course Finns always have a sauna with them. It's a container sauna, with meeting facilities and showers. We have our own generators and pumps, and if we can find water somewhere we'll also get the showers working.”

With respect to weapons, the operation has faced notable bureaucratic headwinds. “Air France is traditionally reluctant to transport weapons. It's strange that officials leave to keep the peace but aren't allowed to take their tools with them,” bemoaned Seppälä.

The crisis management operation in the Central African Republic is one of the most demanding operations of the European Union. Over the past few months, the country has been torn by horrible violence, and visitors are hardly welcomed.

“They look askance and make hand signals. Children do wave their hands merrily,” Seppälä described.

Altogether, a maximum of 30 Finnish troops are set to participate in the crisis management operation. Staff officers have already been deployed to the operational headquarters in Larissa, Greece.

“Heat and humidity,” Seppälä replied to a question about his first impressions of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

The Finnish units consist of sappers for defusing and disposing of explosives and so-called CIMIC troops for maintaining channels of communication with the civilian population.

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