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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, August 1, 2004

U.N. loses peacekeeper Col. Peter Leentjes

By Richard Halloran
Special to The Advertiser

Col. Peter Leentjes, a retired Canadian army officer and widely recognized authority on international peacekeeping operations, died of a heart attack July 28 in Monterey, Calif. The resident of Mariner's Ridge in Hawai'i Kai was 58.

Col. Peter Leentjes

Leentjes, who had extensive experience in United Nations peacekeeping duties, was in demand around the world as a speaker, adviser and trainer on the operations sometimes known as PKO. He had been in Monterey to take part in a PKO conference.

Derek Boothby, a senior official retired from the United Nations, said from his home in Vermont: "Peter was one of those rocks of inspirational leadership, sheer professionalism and dedication that life produces from time to time.

"His energy, cheerfulness and conscientiousness have been widely admired for years. I know that in the U.N., from (Secretary-General) Kofi Annan down, Peter was very highly thought of and greatly respected."

Boothby pointed out Leentjes' dedication to U.N. ideals, saying he was "one of those rare persons who held his head high enough to see the imaginative vision set out in the U.N. Charter, and yet kept his feet firmly planted on the ground of realism and practicality."

Leentjes was born in the Netherlands in October 1945, just after World War II, and emigrated with his parents to Ontario, Canada, in 1952. He graduated from the University of Western Ontario in 1967 and was commissioned in the Royal Canadian Armored Corps.

During his career, he was posted in Germany, Cyprus and France. He became fluent in French, Canada's second official language, and served in a French-speaking regiment. In 1992, he was the operations officer for the multinational force in Bosnia.

In 1994 the United Nations established a training unit in PKO as more troops from around the world were being tasked to take on peacekeeping operations. Leentjes was chosen in 1995 to command that unit, which drew officers from the United States, Sweden, Zimbabwe, Italy, Austria, France and Singapore.

They forged a doctrine on peacekeeping that Leentjes called "a pragmatic response" to conflict. He said PKOs should be based "on consent, impartiality and non-use of force except in self-defense."

Peacekeeping operations are a reversal from regular military operations. The U.N. trainers had to take soldiers trained to apply maximum violence to achieve their mission in the shortest time and with the least possible losses, and retrain them to apply measured, minimal force to restore and keep order.

Many of his travels in that U.N. assignment took him to Africa, where he acquired a taste for the art and sculpture.

Leentjes retired from the Canadian army in 1999 after being decorated with the Order of Military Merit and the Meritorious Service Medal. He came to Hawai'i to work with the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, which has its headquarters at Tripler Army Medical Center.

For the past four years, he led a team of representatives from nongovernmental relief, medical and human rights organizations to Thailand to train U.S., Thai and Singaporean forces in simulated humanitarian operations. He relished donning the blue beret of a U.N. peacekeeper once again to play his part.

Col. Leentjes is survived by his wife of 37 years, Jean; son, Chris, daughter, Sarah; and brother. Larry. Funeral arrangements are pending.