Marking 50 years of peacekeeping, Annan says UN can meet challenges ahead

Marking 50 years of peacekeeping, Annan says UN can meet challenges ahead

Fifty years after the creation of the first United Nations Peacekeeping Operation in Egypt’s Suez Canal, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the world body is up to the new challenges facing the tens of thousands of blue helmets it has deployed in various hotspots across the globe.

In a message on the anniversary released Saturday, Mr. Annan noted that the UN Emergency Force (UNEF) tasked with securing and supervising the cessation of hostilities – including a withdrawal of the armed forces of France, Israel and the United Kingdom from Egyptian territory – was “an extraordinary success.”

He paid tribute to then-Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and his staff for working “around the clock to establish this unprecedented mission as quickly as possible,” recalling that the first units landed in Ismailia on the Suez Canal within 10 days of the decision.

By the end of the year, French and British forces had left the Suez Canal Zone, and Israeli forces completed their withdrawal just three months later. “The international community provided firm support, and troop contributing countries backed up their words with rapid, effective action,” Mr. Annan pointed out.

“Sixty missions later, UN peacekeeping operations have become an indispensable weapon in the arsenal of the international community,” he declared.

At the same time, he pointed out that peacekeeping “must accompany a peace process; it cannot substitute for one” and stressed that “for fragile peace to take root, comprehensive measures are needed to address security sector reform, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.”

The UN currently has 18 operations, a historic high of 93,000 personnel in the field, and a total that may reach 140,000 in 2007. “UN peacekeeping is stretched as never before. Yet we confront that challenge with informed optimism,” Mr. Annan said, citing the rapid deployment of thousands of reinforcements from the developed and developing world alike to the expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon.

This, like UNEF, demonstrated “that so long as peacekeeping has the political and practical support and commitment of the international community, as expressed through the main organs of the UN, anything is possible,” the Secretary-General said.

“The task ahead will be demanding, but we will fulfil it.”