UNITED NATIONS - Western nations are increasingly shying away from peacekeeping operations, particularly in Africa, according to UN officials and diplomats here.
''Already, there has been a marked shift in the composition of UN peacekeeping forces,'' UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette said Tuesday.
She pointed out that the number of troops provided by industrial nations has been falling while those from developing countries have been on the rise.
”The fact is that resources are not distributed among the world's regions in the same proportion as needs,” she added.
The bulk of non-African troops in peacekeeping operations in Africa come from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most of the western nations, Frechette says, have been reluctant to provide peacekeepers for African missions.
There is a ”manifest imbalance between the 30,000 peacekeepers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) deployed in tiny Kosovo and the 10,000 UN peacekeepers deployed in (the Democratic Republic of) Congo (DRC)”, she added.
Kosovo, with an area of about 10,885 sq km -- one-third the size of Belgium -- has a population of about 2.4 million people.
The DRC on the other hand, is the size of Western Europe with a population of about 57 million people. It is also a country where some 3.5 million people are said to have died as a result of fighting since 1998.
''If the UN stands for anything, it must surely be for greater solidarity between strong and wealthy nations on the one hand, and relative weak and poor ones on the other”, Frechette added.
The western reluctance to send troops comes at a time when the United Nations is planning to establish three new peacekeeping operations in Africa: in Cote d'Ivoire, Sudan and Burundi.
''We find that most western nations who have well-equipped troops send only token contingents to Africa,'' an African diplomat told IPS, ''even though they are willing participants in peacekeeping missions elsewhere''.
He pointed out that the newest of the UN peacekeeping operations in Liberia has so far marshaled only about 9,000 troops -- most from developing countries -- far short of the targeted 15,000.
''The reason for the failure to contribute troops to UN missions (in Africa) is probably to be found in the basic ambivalence in the global North toward making commitments to Africa,'' says Bill Fletcher Jr, executive director of Washington-based TransAfrica Forum.
''In some respects,'' Fletcher told IPS, ''it flows from the de-valuing of black life compared with white life''.
He said the reluctance also arises from concerns over who will command those troops, since most western nations do not want their troops to come under African or Asian authority.
In its annual report released Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the major world powers have not given the United Nations the capacity to respond effectively to Africa's wars.
''And though Africa's former colonizers have sent troops in recent years to areas ravaged by conflict -- including the 2,000 (member) British intervention in Sierra Leone and the ongoing French engagement in Cote d'Ivoire since late 2002 -- the major powers have repeatedly made it clear that they will not make the necessary commitment to prevent the massive human rights violations in Africa that result from conflict,'' it said.
Of the 13 UN peacekeeping operations, five are in Africa: the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
Since May 2003, the United Nations has also fielded a UN Mission in Cote d'Ivoire (MINUCI), which is expected to be elevated to a full-fledged peacekeeping operation later this year.
Last month, UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno appealed to troop contributing states to provide more peacekeepers, specifically ''for Liberia and for future operations in Africa''.
While it is too soon to give details of personnel requirements, the United Nations, ''would need to generate substantial numbers of well-trained, well-equipped troops and civil police personnel in 2004'', he added.
''It's going to be crunch time,'' Guehenno told a London newspaper last month. ''This is the time for nations to really look at how they want to use their forces in 2004 because the demands are going to be high.''
If they are not prepared to meet these demands, he warned, the United Nations will not be in a position to deliver.
The UN Mission in DRC, one of the major peacekeeping operations in Africa, has about 10,400 troops from 54 nations. But only 10 are industrial nations, and their numbers are small: Belgium (four soldiers), Canada (seven), Denmark (two), France (eight), Ireland (two), Norway (five), Portugal (six), Sweden (97), Switzerland (two), Spain (three) and the United Kingdom (five).
In contrast, the largest contingents are from developing nations: Uruguay (1,813), South Africa (1,404), Bangladesh (1,327) and Pakistan (1,084).
On Tuesday, the Swedish government announced it will send a 24-member armed contingent to the UN Mission in Liberia.
''The peace agreement reached (in Liberia) during the autumn is an unique opportunity for bringing an end to the prolonged conflict in Liberia that has caused an enormous amount of suffering for the civilian population, and has been an obstacle towards peaceful developments in the entire West African region,'' said a statement issued by Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds.
The UN mission has been given a clear and extensive mandate to support the peace process in the country, she said. ''But in order for the United Nations to succeed in this, member states must be prepared to offer dynamic assistance''.
Copyright © 2004 IPS-Inter Press Service