First UN female force commander takes the reins in Cyprus


Major General Kristin Lund has officially assumed her duties as Force Commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus where the top UN official, Lisa Buttenheim, is also a woman.

That UN operation is now the first in the world to have a dual female leadership.

At a brief ceremony held in the UN Protected Area in Nicosia, Buttenheim, Special Representative of the Secretary-General, thanked Lund’s predecessor, Major General Chao Liu, a Chinese national who served from February 2011. She paid tribute to his “dedication, professionalism and leadership which contributed to United Nations efforts on the island.”

The Security Council established the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), which marked its 50th anniversary in March, in 1964 to contribute to a return to normal conditions following violence and bloodshed between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.

In Cyprus, Lund commands a force which over the years has rotated through more than 150 000 troops. UN troops supervise the de facto ceasefire lines established in 1974 and maintain control over the buffer zone dividing the island. Despite the general calm, UNFICYP records on average about 1 000 incidents in the buffer zone every year.
“It’s hard to believe there is a place where you can go and have a beautiful day vacation, but has mine fields that are not cleared yet,” Lund said in May. At that time, the Major General said she would prepare for her position by analysing the Mission mandate to see what type of activities she could do in support of the Mission and SRSG Buttenheim.

In addition to its military activities, UNFICYP also undertakes humanitarian activities and supports the good offices mission of the Secretary-General.
“When you approach a challenge in a country, such as Cyprus, it’s important you also represent – because there are so many men force commanders – the other half of the population in the world,” Lund said.
“I think it’s important the UN appointed a female force commander and I hope I can be a role model for other female officers to see it’s possible.”

The Norwegian major general has had a distinguished military career, with over 34 years of military command and staff experience at national and international levels.
“The first time you are out is often, in a way, what sits for a long time in your mind,” Lund said about her deployment to Lebanon with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon in 1986 as a transport officer.
“I was on a vehicle where we had 50 calibre, we had a machine gun and I was sitting behind the machine gun,” she said describing an escort mission to pick up new soldiers. After shooting broke out, the vehicle took an alternative route and ended up in an area where it was not supposed to be.
“The way to handle it was actually through communication, through building trust at check points. And I think that was the first time I realised why it is so important for the UN to always use minimal force and as a last resort,” she said.

Her deployment in the Balkans, where between 1992 and 1993 she served with the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia and later with the NATO-led force, was what “formed me as a leader because you have to play like an orchestra” to cope with the various military components and the people involved in the conflict.
“You learn how important the mandate is,” she said, referring to the responsibilities tasked to the Mission by the UN Security Council. “You see the importance of not taking sides.”

Bosnia was also the first deployment where she experienced real violence.
“It’s not normal that you see people get killed. You get used to seeing scenes you, as a military, in a way, prepare for, but you don’t actually hope to get involved. But there you saw the whole spectrum.”

Lund also served in the Middle East during the first Gulf War in 1991 and in Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from 2003 to 2004.

She rejoined as the UN Department of Peacekeeping is spearheading a modernisation campaign in its missions “to do more with less,” at the request of the Secretary-General and the resource-contributing Member States.
“Communication is vital,” said Lund, who led the 56 000-strong Norwegian Home Guard during its modernisation. “When you are changing a huge organisation, everyone needs to know the end stage, where are we going, because if you are making changes and you don’t have all the layers with you, it will take a very long time.”

She was appointed Norway’s first female General in 2009, having taken deputy command of the country’s armed forces in 2007. Her most recent position was head of Veteran Affairs on the Norwegian Defence Staff.