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Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
UN peacekeeping 'on a shoestring'
UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone
Up to 500 UN peacekeepers are being held by rebels
By Mark Devenport at the UN

The United Nations has said that some of its difficulties in Sierra Leone are due to the fact that it is being asked to carry out peacekeeping missions on a shoestring budget.

It has faced considerable criticism over its performance in the West African state.



Governments have not given us the strength we need here at headquarters to do the kind of professional job we would like to do

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard
Questions have been asked about how its peacekeepers could allow Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels to take their weapons and armoured vehicles.

And dismay has been expressed at the UN's incorrect report that rebels were closing on Freetown - a report which spread panic in the Sierra Leonean capital.

Seeking to explain the mission's failings, the UN spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said the false report about the rebels' military movements came after the UN lost contact with a number of its units on the road outside Freetown.

UN staff wrongly believed their peacekeepers had been overrun by the rebels, whereas in fact it was just their radio equipment which had broken down.

Cut-backs

Mr Eckhard said the peacekeepers' persistent difficulties with poor communications gear were symptomatic of a wider problem, which had left soldiers in the field short of resources and the UN's peacekeeping department short of expert staff.

"We're doing peacekeeping these days on a shoestring," he said.

"Our infrastructure to launch peacekeeping operations and sustain them has been cut back through the mid-1990s and, frankly, governments have not given us the strength we need here at headquarters to do the kind of professional job we would like to do."

Mr Eckhard explained that back in the mid-1990s it had looked as if the UN would not be doing any more sizeable peacekeeping missions, so the organisation's member states scaled back.

Now the UN is providing soldiers for Sierra Leone and East Timor and police officers for Kosovo, as well as considering taking on fresh missions.

Mr Eckhard's clear message is that the peacekeeping department's resources have not been increased accordingly.

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09 May 00 | Africa
Britons evacuated from Freetown
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