Ref. :  000011393
Date :  2004-02-05
Language :  English
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Press briefing on peacekeeping in Africa

Author :  ONU / UN

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While real progress had been achieved in Africa in 2003, many challenges still remained, and it was important to sustain the peacekeeping efforts there, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told correspondents at Headquarters today.

Briefing the press on the complex, multidimensional peacekeeping missions in Africa, Mr. Guéhenno said that there had been a dramatic increase in United Nations peacekeeping in the last decade, and lately the efforts were increasingly focused on Africa.  Some three quarters of the 45,000 uniformed peacekeeping personnel around the world were now deployed on that continent.

Among the main accomplishments, he listed the establishment of a transitional government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the prospect of real peace in Sierra Leone; after years of suffering, possible success in Liberia; negotiations on in the Sudan; peace in Angola; and, with a recent peace agreement, a prospect for peace in Burundi.  He also hoped it would be possible to move forward in Côte d’Ivoire.

The United Nations had developed a close partnership with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and other regional and subregional organizations, he continued.  Having learned from the past that being in a weak position in difficult places was a recipe for disaster, the Security Council and troop contributors supported deployment of robust peacekeeping operations.  Looking at 2004, he said that the increased demand for troops, capabilities and reform of the security sector were among the challenges ahead. 

Mr. Guéhenno was accompanied by the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives for Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia –- Daudi Mwakawago, William Swing and Jacques-Paul Klein -- who briefly reviewed the impact and challenges of the United Nations peacekeeping missions in those countries, each of which was at a different stage of development.  The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone is now approaching the end of its mandate, the operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are at mid-course, and the efforts in Liberia have recently begun.

Mr. Mwakawago, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone, said that the United Nations Mission there, UNAMSIL, was now downsizing.  While at the height of the Mission, more than 17,000 troops had been in the country, by next June the Mission was expected to be about 10,500 strong.  The downsizing was being implemented gradually, taking into account the Government’s readiness to assume responsibility for security and such tasks as the training of the army and police.  An assessment mission, which was scheduled to go to the country next week, was expected to come up with recommendations to the Security Council regarding post-UNAMSIL arrangements. 

Last month, the country had celebrated two years of peace after 10 years of war.  Among the benchmarks of success, he mentioned the fact that the parties had abided by the terms of the peace agreement and that successful general elections had resulted in the creation of the new Government.  Despite the fact that the country was very rich in natural resources, including diamonds, gold and agricultural land, the problems there were immense, poverty not the least among them.

Mr. Swing, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that the Mission there had been operational in the country for the past four years.  A flexible mission, it had gone from a small observer mission to a disengagement monitoring mission, to an assistance and verification operation, and finally to a complex multidimensional mission called upon to accompany and facilitate the transition process through good governance, culminating in elections in June 2005, as foreseen in the transitional constitution.

Summarizing the situation in the country, he said that dramatic and sometimes unimaginable progress had been achieved there -- former adversaries were now together in the same government; the country that had been divided was now reunited; and the Congo river was open to traffic.  There were still daunting, but not insurmountable, challenges ahead.  It was important to rebuild the country’s institutions as “sometimes it appears that everything has been broken but the human spirit”.  Creation of an integrated army, promulgation of new laws, return home of foreign armed groups, refugees and internally displaced persons also were among the building blocks that needed to be put in place. 

It was also important to stay the course, he stressed.  International support was now stronger than it had ever been since the country’s independence in 1960.  In order to be as relevant and effective as possible and keep the process credible, the United Nations focused on such strategic objectives as helping the Government to maintain conditions of peace and stability.  A large portion of the Congo was now pacified, which allowed the Mission with its force of 10,800 troops, to redeploy to the districts where ethnic violence continued.  Some 1,000 troops remained in Kinshasa.  Support for transitional institutions was being provided on a regular basis.  The Mission was also supporting the efforts to establish the rule of law in the country.

In conclusion, he said that the legacy of the war included 3.5 million dead, 600,000 refugees, 17 million malnourished people, and 1.3 million people with HIV/AIDS.  The international community was now trying to address that situation in the country that had a great economic potential.

Mr. Klein Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Liberia, said that the Mission there had been dispatched in record time.  Through a determined effort, the Mission assessment, the planning, deployment and the logistics phases had been accomplished in less than five weeks in an environment where a seven-day week was a rule, rather than an exception.  At over 10,700 troops, the Mission was now at 70 per cent of its strength. 

Since deployment, the security situation in the country had improved dramatically, he added.  With increased international presence throughout the country, the violence and ceasefire violations had decreased.  Troop deployment had paved the way for the provision of humanitarian assistance.  The deployment of civilian police and civil affairs personnel would further facilitate the restoration of civil administration and governance.  However, lasting peace would be elusive without demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of combatants.  Also, Liberia was “awash with weapons”, and there could be no stability without their removal.

Turning to the start today of a pledging conference for the reconstruction of Liberia, he said that during tomorrow’s ministerial-level segment, for the first time, the Secretary-General, the United States Secretary of State and senior officials of the World Bank would be present on the podium looking for funding for the country’s reconstruction.  Stable peace would be elusive without development.  There would be high-level representation from around the world, and he hoped that the event would raise funds to rebuild the social fabric of Liberia, which was the key to the stability of West Africa.

Responding to a series of questions regarding several African missions, including those in the Sudan, Burundi and Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Guéhenno said that Africans had paid a high price for war in recent years, but there were good signs that now it would be possible to consolidate recent achievements.  That was not possible without political will and contributions of troops and funds, however.  In all peace operations, the efforts on the ground had to be complemented by a strong political engagement of all the countries that cared about Africa.  That was going to be an issue in 2004.

As for the number of troops in each country, he said:  “We don’t pull the numbers out of the hat without careful consideration of the needs.”  In Burundi and the Sudan, for example, the strength of the missions would depend on the tasks entrusted to them.  Today, he was not prepared to come up with the figures for those two countries, as a careful assessment had not yet been conducted and exact mandates had not been provided.

Regarding the Côte d’IvoireMission, Mr. Guéhenno said that, having carefully looked at what was needed to address the challenges there, he believed that a sound assessment had been made.  The situation was manageable, provided a force of the right strength was provided.  The country needed a relatively small but strong force.  Now, it was important to meet with members of the Security Council to explain the rationale behind the assessment, and he hoped that they would understand and support it.

On the Liberia conference, Mr. Klein added that the process had begun as early as last summer, when extensive lobbying had been done in Washington, D.C.  The Congress had come through with an amount of some $445 million, including   $225 million to cover the peacekeeping costs.  The European Union had also come through with some €45 million to 55 million.  Through hard work, all the United Nations agencies had come up with a gross figure needed to rebuild the country.  The organizers of the conference were not just asking for money, but for money for specific projects. 

Finally, there was a realization that unless Liberia was stable, the whole of West Africa remained unstable, he said.  There was real commitment now.

Responding to a question about gender issues in peacekeeping, Mr. Guéhenno said that just this morning there had been a presentation of the gender package that was being developed by the Best Practice Unit.  There was real commitment to the promotion of gender equality in the Department.

Several participants at the press conference informed correspondents that their missions had gender units and that women were increasingly appointed to high-level positions.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there was an ongoing dialogue with the Government to make provisions for gender equality in its undertakings.

Asked about the reasons for the donors’ interest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr. Swing said that it was important to support the Congolese to ensure that the people of the country were the beneficiaries of the resources that had been sadly plundered.  Of course, there would be legitimate commercial competition and some reconsideration of past contracts in the country would take place, but efforts would be made to create a legal framework in order to protect the enormous riches of the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- one of the richest countries in Africa.

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