12 September 2013
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations


Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told correspondents today that even though the world’s attention was currently focused on Syria — and rightly so — many of his Department’s concerns today had to do with various situations in Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Sudan and South Sudan.


Speaking at a Headquarters press conference on the major issues of concern ahead of the upcoming annual United Nations General Assembly session, Mr. Ladsous said that while the issue of Syria warranted, and deservedly so, considerable attention, he would not dwell on it during his briefing as it was being discussed considerably elsewhere by others, including the Secretary-General.


However, there were some related peacekeeping issues concerning United Nations missions in the region, namely, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights, where his Department continued to face a number of difficulties due to numerous armed incidents in and around the area of its operation.  In that regard, steps were being undertaken to strengthen UNDOF, including ensuring the Security Council-authorized staffing level for the mission of around 1,250.  The other was the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), where the situation had been “quiet” and would hopefully remain so.


On the three areas of concern in Africa, Mr. Ladsous noted that despite worrying developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo two weeks ago, progress was being made.  His Department had experienced substantial activity in the Kivus with the attack by M23 and subsequent action by the armed forces of the Government, with the support of MONUSCO and its Intervention Brigade.  He described as a “very significant achievement” the pushing back of the M23 so far north that it no longer posed a direct threat, as it had for a long time on Goma, the surrounding internally displaced persons camps, as well as on the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO).


At the same time, he cautioned that it was important to remember that the situation in the eastern Congo and more generally in the Great Lakes area required, first and foremost, a political solution that addressed the underlying causes for the long-time intense suffering of the people, victimized by rape and recruitment of child soldiers in armed groups, among other egregious activities.


Diplomacy, he was pleased to note, had again become the order of the day in efforts to resolve disagreements as exemplified by all the special envoys for the region — from the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union and United States.  A visit last week by former United States’ Senator Russ Feingold to the region and the Great Lakes summit convened by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on 5 September culminated in an urgent request to M23 to forego any further military action, as well as a call for a resumption of the so-called Kampala talks between M23 and the Congolese Government.


The summit also urged the parties to press ahead with implementation of the framework agreement signed early this year, he explained.  In that regard, a special event on the margins of the upcoming General Assembly session was planned to take stock of the situation.  Following the summit, President Joseph Kabila launched the reforms he had promised. 


Also as a result of that meeting, added Mr. Ladsous, the United Nations, through MONUSCO, was a full-fledged member of the verification mechanism of the Great Lakes countries, through which it would be able to get a much clearer picture of what was happening in order to adjudicate, if needed, with regard to accusations of shelling by one side or the other.  He added that, as part of the intervention brigade, the Mission intended to have the unmanned aerial vehicles flying over the Kivus in the last month of the year for observation purposes.


Turning to Mali, he described the situation there as “so far, so good” with the presidential election having gone well, and the appointment of a Prime Minister and installation of the Government just a few days ago.  “And, now, the authorities in Mali have to work, with our support for the implementation of the Ouagadougou agreements of 18 June in terms of making progress on national reconciliation,” he said.  Initial contacts had been made and work had begun in a number of areas, including security sector reform and various institutional reinforcements.


He reaffirmed the United Nations full support of the Malian Government’s efforts and in that regard pledged continued commitment to strengthening MINUSMA, the joint United Nations-African Union mission in that country.  There were some 5,201 soldiers and some 800 police on the ground in Mali.  Present efforts were only one stage in a process whose ultimate goal was to address the root causes that had triggered the situation witnessed over the last 18 months in that country.


In that connection, he stressed the need to take into account the regional perspective, adding that the Sahel was an important issue in itself, for which another stocktaking event was planned on the margins of the General Assembly.


Describing the two Sudans as a “yo-yo” situation, where at one stage things looked better and then got worse again, he said the issues there were well known and could not be addressed definitively in a short time.  The situation overall was in a “positive phase”, following last week’s meeting between President Salva Kiir of South Sudan and Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir in Khartoum, which cleared the way somewhat for agreement by Khartoum to “suspend sine die” the threat to cut the flow of oil.  That “very significant” decision increased confidence. 


Still, he said, several difficult issues remained, including that of Abyei, where no clear solution was yet in sight, he observed, adding his hope that the border mechanism soon to become operational would help to lessen tensions in the area.  “And of course, both countries have to address their internal problems,” he said, citing the situations in Darfur and in Jonglei State in the south.


Concluding, Mr. Ladsous underlined his concern for the safety of peacekeepers everywhere, noting that, sadly, there were yet more victims in eastern Congo, Darfur and elsewhere.


Asked if the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was prepared to either create a peacekeeping force or work with contributing countries to create guard forces to protect workers and facilities of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), he said the Department was “completely in the hands of the Security Council” insofar as that was concerned, and if requested to do something, would act accordingly.


To a request for more details about Mr. Feingold’s role on his recent trip to the Great Lakes region, Mr. Ladsous said the American envoy been very active in the joint action by all four special envoys, travelling throughout the countries of the region and participating actively in the Kampala summit.  It was very important that all the four entities — the United States, the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations — were seen as speaking with one voice and acting as one, he asserted.


To a question about the M23, he said he believed it was because the movement had suffered significant casualties that it had retreated “to lick their wounds”.  That was also when they to agreed to hold negotiations with the Government.  Those had since resumed in Kampala.


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For information media • not an official record