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UN peacekeeping chief stresses need for flexibility as missions face new challenges

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous briefs the press.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous briefs the press.

UN peacekeeping chief stresses need for flexibility as missions face new challenges

The United Nations top peacekeeper today highlighted the need for flexibility and increased coordination among international actors to ensure peacekeeping missions address the needs of the countries they operate in, within the context of financial restraint.

“We are a global partnership. In order to achieve our mandates, we need support and strong cooperation between the Security Council, Member States and the Secretariat, so that we collectively focus on meeting the demands and addressing the needs of the countries in which we are deployed,” the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, told a news briefing at UN Headquarters in New York.

“This requires also us to be increasingly flexible and increasingly nimble, especially in the context of financial restraint,” he added.

Currently, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) – headed by Mr. Ladsous – leads 16 peace operations around the world. In accordance with the UN Charter, every UN Member State is legally obligated to pay their respective share towards peacekeeping, based on a special scale of assessments. In addition, troops which can serve as 'blue helmets' are also sought from Member States.

The budget for UN peacekeeping operations for the fiscal year 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013 is about $7.23 billion – less than half of one per cent of world military expenditures in 2010, according to DPKO.

In his remarks, the UN peacekeeping chief noted that the world body will be resizing various missions, as part of a continuous process of review, “to ensure that we are configured in the right way to meet the needs on the ground.”

These include the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the United Nations-African Union operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), the last of which is expected to close at the end of this year.

“On balance, we are seeing modest overall reduction which gives us a strategic opportunity to focus on the quality and capabilities of peacekeeping,” Mr. Ladsous said, adding that financial constraints require peace missions to be versatile and creative in the implementation of their mandates from the Security Council.

The West African nation of Mali figured prominently in the UN official's remarks. He stated that the two main priorities there remain restoring constitutional order and helping the country regain its sovereignty.

Currently led by Interim President Dioncounda Traoré, Mali has been dealing with a range of security, political and humanitarian problems since the start of the year. Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in the country's north in January. Since then, radical Islamists have seized control of the north, where they have imposed an extremist version of Muslim Sharia law as well as restrictions that target women in particular.

Mr. Ladsous stressed that during a meeting of the international community last week in Bamako, the country's capital, there had been consensus amongst the UN, the Malian authorities, the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that the two priorities should be achieved through political solutions.

“The United Nations stands ready to assist the Malian authorities towards a credible political process that addresses the underlying causes of the crisis in order to find a sustainable solution,” Mr. Ladsous said. However, he added that the possibility of a military element as part of a solution has not been ruled out.

DPKO, he noted, has started to work with the Malian authorities, ECOWAS and the AU to plan the international military force that may ultimately be required for the recovery of the country's north. He added that there will be another meeting in Bamako early next week to refine the concept of operations with all parties that are willing to contribute.

At a meeting last week, citing the threat to regional peace from terrorists and Islamic militants in the rebel-held north, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution which held out the possibility of endorsing, within 45 days, an international military force to restore the unity of the West African nation.

The 15-member body also called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to support the Malian political process and provide, at once, military and security planners to ECOWAS, the AU and other partners, to help frame a response to a request by Mali's Transitional Authorities for such a force, and to report back within 45 days.

Regarding the ongoing crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mr. Ladsous said the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) is taking a robust position in view of its mandate to support DRC forces and protect civilians, but emphasized that wider political action is needed to find a lasting solution.

“They do not hesitate using all equipment including attack helicopters to deter unspeakable acts committed against civilians,” he said of the efforts of UN peacekeepers to support DRC troops against the March 23 Movement (M23). “They are as proactive as they can be.”

The DRC's eastern provinces of North and South Kivu have witnessed increased fighting between Government troops and the M23, which is composed of renegade soldiers who mutinied in April. The fighting has displaced more than 300,000 people, including many who have fled to neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda, as well as within DRC. MONUSCO has clashed with members of M23 on several occasions.

“It is very important that all external support to the M23 cease and that a regional dialogue can develop,” Mr. Ladsous said, noting that two solutions have been put forward at meetings of the International Conference on the Region of the Great Lakes (ICGLR).

One of these is the establishment of an international force to work alongside MONUSCO to pacify the Kivus, and the other, the so-called Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism (EJVM), was launched in September, in the eastern DRC town of Goma. First discussed in July, the mechanism is a technical body, comprising military experts from both DRC and Rwanda, as well as other ICGLR countries and supported by the AU and the UN, to address DRC-Rwanda border security issues, amongst other tasks.

Mr. Ladsous also discussed Sudan and South Sudan, particularly their achievement in avoiding violence between them over the past six months. “In April this year the two countries were terribly close to open war and fortunately an all-out conflict has been avoided,” he said, commending the AU for its role as intermediary in related peace talks.

South Sudan became independent from Sudan in July last year, six years after the signing of the peace agreement that ended decades of warfare between the north and the south. However, the peace between the two countries had come under threat over recent months by armed clashes along their common border and outstanding post-independence issues that have yet to be resolved.

In the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in late September, the two countries came together on a series of cooperation agreements, in talks held under the auspices of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel. A total of nine agreements were signed on 27 September, and ratified by their respective parliaments last week.

“These agreements provide vital elements in building a strong foundation for a stable and prosperous future between the two countries and we commend both States and their leaders for their commitment,” Mr. Ladsous said, adding that the priority now is seeing that the agreements are put in place.

'Now that they have been signed and ratified last week it is also a matter of implementation and looking at those issues that have not been solved,” Mr. Ladsous said. Among the unresolved issues is an agreement determining the final status of Abyei, a disputed region straddling the border area between Sudan and South Sudan.

Regarding the situation in Syria, Mr. Ladsous said the main focus right now rests on supporting the efforts of the Joint Special Representative of the UN and the League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi, to help Syria achieve a cessation of violence and ultimately bring about a political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

At the same time, DPKO is preparing plans should a ceasefire take place and the Security Council calls for the involvement of UN peacekeepers. However, he noted, it was still too early to say what size of force, and precisely what kind of peacekeeping mandate and force, could be called for.

The Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States – Ban Ki-moon and Nabil El Araby – have called on all warring parties in Syria to heed the call of Joint Special Representative Brahimi for a ceasefire in all its forms during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which takes place on Friday, and called on international actors to support this appeal.

Syria has been wracked by violence, with an estimated 20,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. Some 2.5 million people are also in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.

In April, the Council established the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) to monitor a ceasefire arrangement, amongst other tasks. Its mandate was extended for 30 days in July, but the Council decided not to renew it in August due to the escalating violence.

“It was obvious that the conditions did not allow the mission to operate effectively,” Mr. Ladsous told reporters, adding that depending on changes on the ground and on the decisions made by the Council, the UN peacekeeping arm would be ready to assist further.

During the range of topics covered in his news briefing, Mr. Ladsous also spoke of the general work of UN peacekeepers, to whom he paid tribute for their efforts and sacrifices.

“Let us never forget the sacrifices made by our peacekeepers,” he said. “This year alone, a total of 73 peacekeepers have died serving in the cause of peace.”

Just last week, six MONUSCO peacekeepers and a local interpreter were wounded in an overnight ambush while returning from a patrol in the DRC's North Kivu province, while a UNMAID peacekeeper was killed and three others wounded in an ambush in the state of North Darfur. In early October, another four UNAMID peacekeepers were killed and eight wounded in an ambush in West Darfur state.