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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 18:30 GMT 19:30 UK
Peacekeeping challenges

Peacekeepers in Sierra Leone ran into severe difficulties
By UN Correspondent Mark Davenport

Amongst the many challenges confronting the UN in the 21st Century probably the most pressing facing the world leaders gathered in New York is that of restoring the credibility of the "blue helmets", the UN peacekeepers sent to monitor cease fires and separate adversaries throughout the world.

More than 37,000 soldiers and police officers are now on duty in 14 missions stretching across the globe from Western Sahara to East Timor.

Traditionally the "blue helmets" were deployed to patrol buffer zones between conventional armies which had fought each other to a standstill.

But increasingly the peacekeepers are being thrown into unpredictable civil wars involving unstable rebel factions who don't stick to any rules, and who do not think twice about turning their guns on those trying to keep the peace.

The risks posed by such assignments were vividly illustrated earlier this year in Sierra Leone. When the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front turned against the peace deal they had signed, lightly armed UN peacekeepers were dangerously exposed.

Five hundred were taken hostage in what amounted to an ignominious setback for the UN's biggest current peacekeeping operation.

Failed peacekeeping missions

The hostage taking episode in Sierra Leone compounded a number of previous failings by the UN.

In Rwanda in 1994 a small mission wasn't given the orders or the manpower necessary to prevent the massacre of more than half a million Tutsis.

Srebrenica: Too few troops to defend
Srebrenica: Too few troops to defend "safe haven"
In the so called "safe haven" of Srebrenica in Bosnia the following year beleaguered peacekeepers withdrew in the face of a Serb assault, leaving thousands of Bosnians to be massacred.

The buzzword now being heard in the corridors of the UN is that in the future peacekeeping forces must be far more "robust".

UN officials don't want the "blue helmets" to become offensive "war fighting" troops. But they do want them to be deployed in sufficient strength and with adequate equipment to deter any potential enemy from starting trouble.

They also want them to have the means to stop civilians in their immediate vicinity being massacred or subjected to human rights abuses.

Bigger mandate means more money

Because the UN doesn't have a standing army of its own, this new thinking means that its member states must be ready to provide it with soldiers more quickly when crises occur.

UN soldiers must be well-equipped
It also means that peacekeeping, which already costs more than $2bn a year, is likely to be more expensive in the future if forces are to be bigger and better equipped.

Potentially, it may mean that the UN Security Council will have to decide to react to fewer crises, on the grounds that the "blue helmets" cannot possibly go everywhere in the world.

The world leaders will have on their agenda a detailed report by the veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi setting out a number of these ideas.

Initially most countries have welcomed Mr Brahimi's suggestions, but he did not estimate how much his suggested reforms might cost.

As ever finding the money for improved peacekeeping will be the hard part, with some countries, such as the USA, arguing that savings can be made within the UN system, whilst UN officials will counter that extra funds will have to be provided by the member states.

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