Major Catherine Wollocombe in Afghanistan. (Courtesy of the Canadian Armed Forces)

Harrow Woman Preparing For Peacekeeping In South Sudan

A woman from Harrow is preparing to join Canadian troops as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan.

Major Catherine Wollocombe is assigned to a six-month tour of duty in the nation’s capital, Juba. She’ll serve as the Canadian mission’s deputy task force commander and as a senior officer in the joint operation centre.

Wollocombe is no stranger to foreign peacekeeping having served in Afghanistan. However, she says this mission will see her interacting daily with the local population, aiding peace-building efforts between two major ethnic groups, the Nuer and the Dinka.

Major Catherine Wollocombe. (Courtesy of the Canadian Armed Forces)

Major Catherine Wollocombe. (Courtesy of the Canadian Armed Forces)

“The command structure and the support personnel within Juba will be located within a UN compound,” she says. “But we do have military observers that will be within the ten districts within South Sudan, so living amongst the locals.”

Wollocombe’s military service started 37 years ago. Aside from Afghanistan, she also served as the Chief of Reserves for the nation’s cadet program at the Department of National Defence in Ottawa.

When she is deployed, she is still waiting for permission from the United Nations; she will leave behind three adult children.

“There are many stresses, obviously, within my own family,” she admits. “Because they are so supportive of me going over to this mission, they help me to provide a very positive environment. So, that in itself has put my mind at ease.”

She expects to leave January 11, but her mission will not start in Juba until February 17.

The country, formed in 2011 when it broke away from Sudan, is not only the world’s youngest country, it is also one of the most impoverished. Just 13% of South Sudanese have a cellphone, and very few roads are paved. Many aid organizations say some areas in the grip of famine.

It became emersed in a civil war when the President accused his former deputy of attempting a coup in December 2013. Since then, 300,000 people have died in fighting between government forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Another 3.5-million have been displaced, of which 1.5-million have fled the country. The BBC reported atrocities in the countryside last month.

There have been several ceasefires since the fighting broke out, but the two sides agreed to a peace deal last May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia paving the way for a transitional government, a new constitution, and possibly elections.

Canada has about 30 troops in the country right now, a mandate called Operation Soprano. Its mission is to protect civilians, investigate human rights abuses, and help establish a cessation to the war. According to the Canadian Armed Forces website, Operation Soprano is part of a much larger United Nations mission which employs up to 17,000 people from 63 nations.