11 November 2008

Overseas Angels

The Straights Times 11 Nov 2008 TIMOR LESTE - He set up marine police unit - twice. In his first mission to Timor Leste, Senior Station Inspector Partapjeet Singh painstakingly built up a marine police unit of eight officers and four boats. He returned seven years later to find that the fledgling unit had collapsed and the boats were missing.

Undaunted, he started over again to rebuild the Unidade Policia Maritima Timor-Leste, now 44-strong.

Senior Station Insp Singh, 51, from the Police Coast Guard, was one of 21 officers who served in the second United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor Leste in the past year, returning just two weeks ago.

Speaking to The Straits Times, he recalled how he was designated chief of the marine unit on his first trip to what was then still East Timor in early 2001.

Over nine months, he recruited and trained eight Timorese with basic maritime knowledge, and acquired four small patrol boats.

By 2005, the unit had 33 officers. But in April 2006, riots sparked by the dismissal of hundreds of striking soldiers badly affected the local police force, and caused the marine unit to crumble.

So it was back to square one for the father of three grown-up children when he returned to the same unit for his second tour of duty in Timor Leste, this time as maritime mentor and coordinator.

He did, however, have help from another international police officer, and the original Timorese officers that the unit started out with.

'You can say I was disheartened that the unit had collapsed,' said Senior Station Insp Singh, a 31-year veteran of the Coast Guard. 'But I was also glad that the eight became my trainers.'

The men went through a five-day trainer's course and refresher, learning chart work and safety at sea, among other things. Two of them are now commander and deputy commander of the unit, while the rest lead sections, he added.

He said training packages had to be developed and translated into Bahasa Indonesia, still the country's working language. But the hardest part was the lack of training facilities.

'There were no classrooms and I had to go up to the mountain to teach,' he said. It took two hours to travel from the capital, Dili, over mountainous terrain, to reach the marine unit's headquarters near the coast.

Yesterday, Senior Station Insp Singh and the Singapore contingent, led by Superintendent Sng May Yen, were honoured for their work in adding to the strength of the local police force to bring stability and peace to Timor Leste.

The group of 21 was conferred the Singapore Police Service Overseas Service Medal by Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who is also Second Minister for Home Affairs.

As the first woman commander to lead an overseas contingent, Supt Sng, 37, said she had to overcome some reservations from colleagues in other countries unused to taking orders from a woman.

Image: Senior Station Inspector Partapjeet Singh (right)



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