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UN Peace Missions Falter in Africa

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations remains virtually crippled as two proposed peacekeeping missions -- one in Darfur and the other in Somalia -- are making little or no progress.

Since 2004, the Security Council has adopted seven resolutions related to Darfur, where the ongoing conflict has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 civilians, and reduced over 2.2 million to the status of refugees or internally displaced persons.

In Somalia, the civil war, which began in 1991, has destabilised the country despite 14 peace agreements.

But on both battle fronts, the world body is unable or unwilling to bring peace and stability either for political or logistical reasons.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's desperate appeal for assistance -- including troops, military equipment, and most importantly, political support from member states -- has generated little positive response.

U.N. Under-Secretary-General Jean-Marie Guehenno, head of peacekeeping operations, was more pointed when he said that the international community's "often faltering support for U.N. peacekeeping operations was making it difficult to maintain gains in key conflict areas."

The U.N. has proposed a 26,000-strong peacekeeping force in Darfur. But only 7,467 troops are in place since the joint African Union-U.N. Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was established on Dec. 31 last year.

The mission is still in need of more than 18,000 troops, mostly African, and about 18 helicopters. But there have been few offers of men and materiel, with the exception of four helicopters from Ethiopia.

Four years ago, the Security Council first took up the issue of Darfur, Ban said last week. "The situation remains [as] grim today as then, if not worse. Violence targeting civilians, including women and girls, continues at alarming levels with no accountability, or end, in sight," he warned Friday.

He also said the conflict in Darfur "persists at extreme and unacceptable levels. But continued suffering is both unforgivable and preventable, and the potential for peace and progress is great."

The secretary-general also plans a new 27,000-strong multinational peacekeeping force in Somalia.

But the creation of the force has been stalled primarily because "there is no peace to keep in Somalia in the first place", according to Ambassador Francis Butagira of Uganda, whose troops are already in Somalia as part of a token African Union (AU) mission there.

Still, he says Somalia needs a total force of 15 to 21 infantry battalions in a proposed operation that could cost about 817.5 million dollars annually.

"Uganda is in Somalia for a good cause and we shall stay the course, for we believe the international community should not abandon Somalia," Butagira told the Security Council last month.

The U.N. special representative in Somalia, A. Ould-Abdallah, told the Security Council last December there is little reason to believe that "there is any chance of success if the international community continues a 'business as usual' approach" to the conflict.

"There are serious consequences for Somalia, the region and probably the world, if the conflict is not addressed and a definitive, lasting solution agreed on," he added.

Compared to Sierra Leone, Liberia and other African countries that have been mired in civil wars, efforts to resolve the conflict in Somalia "have so far failed to bear fruit", he declared.

During a visit to New York last month, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticised member states for their unwillingness to provide unconditional support for peacekeeping operations.

"I can understand why some countries will not put troops on the ground in Darfur for reasons I think we can accept," he said. "But I cannot understand why they cannot spare a couple of helicopters."

Annan, who oversaw the creation of more than a dozen new U.N. peacekeeping missions during his 10-year tenure as chief administrative officer of the world body, also warned of a new impending danger: the United Nations was taking over far too many peace missions which it may be incapable of handling.

The former secretary-general pointed out that the world body is going to be "overstretched" by the increasing number of global conflicts -- mostly in Africa and Asia.

"I don't think the U.N. is in a position today to go in and take over in Afghanistan; I don't think the U.N. will get the resources to play a major and active role in Somalia," he said.

"We are already struggling to get the resources in Darfur, where some have declared it a genocide," Annan noted. And worse still, he said, was "to create the impression of action when nothing is happening. This, I think, is more damaging."

Weighed down by 17 peacekeeping operations, including large-scale missions in Africa, the United Nations is short of troops, military equipment, funds, and the political will of member states, to shoulder an increasingly heavy burden currently in danger of collapse.

When nearly 1,000 Kenyans were killed in ethnic riots in that East African country recently, the world body was either helpless or unwilling to act.

In the Horn of Africa, the United Nations was forced to withdraw from Eritrea and relocate its troops because of non-cooperation by the Eritreans. The U.N. Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, which was established in July 2000 to monitor a ceasefire ending a border war between the two neighbours, is at a virtual standstill.

Rightly or wrongly, the African Union takes the position that African problems have to be resolved by Africans themselves, not by outsiders.

Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the African Union Commission, said last month it is "scandalous" to spend 2.0 billion dollars annually on the upkeep of a proposed 26,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur when Africa's urgent needs are elsewhere.

Providing an African perspective, the former president of Mali told reporters he "really regretted" that "enormous sums were being poured into conflict prevention in Africa, which could be better used to address the continent's development challenges."

UNAMID's mega budget, one of the largest in U.N. peacekeeping history, was "scandalous", he said, considering the fact that the key to solving the problem in Sudan rested "with us".

He admitted, however, that there was an "African responsibility" to deal with peace and security problems in the continent.

Jane Holl Lute, assistant secretary-general for field support, says the U.N.'s overall peacekeeping budget, which was less than 2.0 billion dollars in 2003, could exceed 7.0 billion dollars in 2007-2008: more than three times the size of the U.N.'s annual regular budget.

© 2008 Inter Press Service

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