Over the 15 days, parts of the Chad peace mission's first and third platoons have operated in the Central African Republic. Their task was to relieve the ordinary French Eufor force, to enable them to go out on long distance patrols in the area instead.
"We guarded the local Eufor compound in the town of Birao. We were also able to make our own local patrols in the town, that has a population of around 1,000", he adds.
Greener and more humid
The stay in Birao was a stark contrast to life in Chad. The climate is more tropical, which makes it greener and more humid and less dusty.
"You also had a different feeling in Birao compared to working in Chad. The population were far more effusive in expressing their thanks for our presence. They were pleased that we were able to guarantee safety in the town. This is probably because the rebels attacked the town as recently as just under a year ago", says Winquist.
Life in Birao is simple and Spartan. However thanks to aid organisations, the town is not destitute.
"Despite the poverty, there were very few people begging on the streets", he says.
The Swedish-Finnish force also visited a school during their stay in the Central African Republic.
"Eufor distributes educational tools in Birao as a goodwill gesture. These are simple things like notebooks and schoolbooks. It was very satisfying to see how such little things could bring such enormous pleasure to so many people", says Winquist.
The population was generally very appreciative.
"We also met the governor who thanked us for our presence. He said that it was thanks to Eufor that the children could go to school – and that adults felt able to be outside in the evening and at night", says Winquist.
Eufor's over 800 kilometre long operations area, that extends from Chad in the north to a small part of the Central African Republic in the south, is monitored by different European nations. For instance, Poles monitor the area to the north and Irish forces the central part of the area. The south, which includes Birao, is the responsibility of the French. The Swedish forces do not patrol any particular area, and are employed as an emergency force deployable throughout the entire operations area.
"I hope we get the opportunity to go to Birao again. It is important that Eufor shows it is a truly multinational European force. Before we Swedes and Finns came to Birao the local population had only seen French forces. They have now seen, and know, that Eufor is a joint force from several European countries. Which is good", says Winquist.