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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 March, 2004, 13:30 GMT
UN troops spread across Africa
By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

The growing importance of the United Nations presence in Africa has been highlighted by protests on Tuesday and Wednesday in the eastern Congolese town of Bukavu.

Stones were thrown at UN vehicles by local people, demanding a more vigorous response to attacks on a popular military commander in the region.

UN peacekeepers in DR Congo
The UN is giving African politicians space to try to end their wars
It is typical of the sort of incident the UN is having to cope with, as Africans come to rely on the UN's almost 50,000 troops now on patrol across the continent's trouble-spots.

Gone are the days when the UN operations in Africa were treated with derision.

Its forces are now active in four areas of conflict: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of the Congo and along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border.

And last week the Security Council agreed to send another 6,000 troops to Ivory Coast.

Preparations are also being made to send more forces to Sudan - should a peace agreement be signed between the two sides currently meeting in Kenya.

Muscular approach

From the rainforests of DR Congo to the barren mountains of Eritrea, UN troops are providing the space for Africa's politicians to try to end the continent's wars.

Yet before the end of the cold war in 1989 most of these operations would have been impossible.

The Angolan civil war was fuelled by the United States and the Soviet Union - and either would have blocked UN peacekeepers intervening in the conflict.

Then came the disaster of Rwanda in 1994 - when UN forces stood by while the genocide took place - while around 800,000 died.

The man in charge of peacekeeping operations then was Kofi Annan. Now he is UN secretary general.

Past mistakes have paved the way for a more muscular approach to peacekeeping in Africa.

And with more active partners in South Africa and Nigeria, the UN is playing a real role in ending the continent's wars.

UN peace force for Ivory Coast
28 Feb 04  |  Africa
Liberians return to 'safe areas'
25 Feb 04  |  Africa
DR Congo peacekeeper shot dead
13 Feb 04  |  Africa
Horn tensions trigger UN warning
04 Feb 04  |  Africa


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