Continuing an official visit to Ireland, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today praised the country's Government for fielding troops to the world body's peacekeeping operations in Africa.
"Ireland has been one of the few industrialized States to deploy formed military units to sub-Saharan Africa, providing niche capabilities that really hold a peacekeeping operation together," he said in an address to troops assembled at the McKee Barracks in Dublin, some of whom will soon ship out to the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). "We need these specialist units very, very badly."
He also noted Ireland's key role, especially during its recent presidency of the European Union (EU), in promoting cooperation between the EU and the United Nations in crisis management, particularly in the possible use of EU "battle groups" to support UN operations.
"Whatever and wherever the mission, the skills of Ireland's troops, and your country's credibility with the parties, have been great assets in our efforts," he said.
Looking to the broader picture, the Secretary-General said UN peacekeeping benefits when diverse countries participate. "UN peacekeeping is strongest when the entire range of Member States participate on the ground, sending a signal of broad international commitment to the local parties - and in particular to the people suffering the most direct impact of conflict."
This theme was echoed during talks between the Secretary-General and the country's Defence Minister, William O'Dea. Mr. Annan emphasized that highly trained and specialized troops make the best peacekeepers, and hailed Ireland's contributions, particularly to UNMIL, according to a UN spokesman. They also discussed the prevailing conditions in Sudan and Iraq.
The Secretary-General then met with Lt. Gen. James Sreenan, the Irish Army Chief of Staff, who briefed him on the activities in Liberia of the 600-strong rapid reaction unit made up of Irish and Swedish troops.