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"The UN handed over power to the Serbs and thousands of people were killed"
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The BBC's James Robbins
"The government will press for much more effective peacekeeping"
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Robin Cook Foreign Secretary
"We've got to improve the quality of the peacekeeping forces"
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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
UK urges UN reform
UN soldiers in Freetown
A difficult role: UN soldiers in Sierra Leone
The UK is calling for a major overhaul of the way the United Nations runs its peacekeeping missions.

The government has published a joint report with the Liberal Democrats which highlights the need for better training and co-ordination of UN missions.

Key proposals
An international military training college
Add Japan and Germany to the Security Council
Add one Asian, African and Latin American to the council
It says rivalries and misunderstandings between UN troops from different countries, coupled with underfunding, have seriously undermined the organisation's effectiveness in dealing with events in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone.

The report calls for the establishment of an international military college in the UK to address the issue.

The policy document, published on Monday, also calls for the expansion of the UN Security Council.

The report, which is a product of the Joint Cabinet Committee between Labour and the Lib Dems, comes as the prime minister and the foreign secretary prepare to visit the UN headquarters in New York for a special "Millennium Summit".

Strong criticisms

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the joint report would add weight to the government's arguments in the UN.

"We have got to improve the quality of the peacekeeping forces and that is why we have proposed there should be a UN staff college to continue to carry out training on peacekeeping," Mr Cook said.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
Robin Cook: Cross party support adds weight to arguments
"We suggest that Britain would be a very logical place to have it because of our own expertise in peacekeeping and our commitment to the UN."

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "Expectations of the UN's ability to deal with conflict and the abuse of human rights have never been higher. But the capacity to do so swiftly and effectively has been inadequate."

In the joint report the two parties also call for more UN resources dedicated to spotting potential conflicts and trying to stop a slide into combat.

The document adds that rules of engagement for UN troops must be made more robust, saying: "No longer must UN blue helmets stand by while the most serious crimes against humanity are being committed.

"Once again in Sierra Leone earlier this year we saw the harm that the slow and inadequate deployment of a peacekeeping mission can bring in particular operations."

Peackeepers under fire

Peacekeeping troops have been heavily criticised in recent years. In 1994, UN soldiers in Rwanda failed to stop the genocide of 800,000 people.

Poor organisation and a lack of political will were blamed.

Similar criticisms were made of the UN's performance in Bosnia, especially in Srebrenica where civilians were massacred in a supposedly protected "safe area".

And earlier this year, the weak position of the UN in Africa was once again highlighted when hundreds of peacekeeping soldiers in Sierra Leone were taken hostage by rebel troops.

Security Council reform

In addition, the two parties go on to urge radical changes to the UN's most powerful body, the Security Council.

In the report they say more countries should be made permanent members, including Germany and Japan.

This would dilute the veto power of the five existing permanent members including the UK.

The report adds that in addition to Germany and Japan one representative each from Latin America, Africa and Asia should become permanent members.

It also calls for another four non-permanent members, to bring total Security Council membership up from 15 to 24.

"Expanding the Security Council would undoubtedly bestow upon it greater legitimacy," says the paper.

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The highs and lows of UN peacekeeping
See also:

05 May 00 | Africa
UN failing in Africa
16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN admits failure in Rwanda
16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN's lack of will highlighted
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