Responses to student questions from peacekeepers in the field:
Mr. Ismael Diallo, MINURCA, Central African Republic
Click here for more information on the MINURCA mission.
From River Valley High School, in Marion Ohio, USA
I'm a freshman from Marion and I was wondering what emergency/political
situation requires your presence in Central Africa?
Thank You, Frank Geopfert
The Central African Republic has faced a crisis since 1996 when many
units in the country's army rebelled. For many months, salaries
had not been paid to soldiers, teachers and many other government workers.
The country has also suffered from political conflict and instability,
and severe economic problems. The whole region of central Africa
has seen many conflicts and much instability in recent years. An agreement
among different parties in the country was reached at the end of 1996 and
set out steps the country should take to improve the situation. But
the Central Africans also needed help to carry out the agreement, which
included steps to disarm former mutineers militias and others, and to improve
democracy, rule of law, human rights and other measures to bring about
stability and national reconciliation.
A peacekeeping force made up of soldiers from several African countries
was created in 1997, with logistical support from France, to help stabilize
the situation and help the Government, political parties and others put
the agreement into effect. In January 1998, the President of the Central
African Republic requested that the United Nations establish a peacekeeping
operation in the country, to continue when the African peacekeeping force
and logistical support from France ended. In April 1998 MINURCA was
established to help maintain security in the capital city, Bangui, and
its immediate vicinity, to supervise the collection and disposal of weapons.
MINURCA is also providing police training and is assisting with preparations
Hello, my name is Sarah Landis, and I have a few questions to ask you.
What is your responsibility in your country as a peacekeeper?
A UN peacekeeper serves the United Nations in a specific mission area.
His or her responsibilities are determined by the "mandate"--a definition
of the tasks and goals of the mission-- formulated by the Security
Council. The responsibilities of a UN military peacekeeper are primarily
to maintain peace through patrols and observations. A military peacekeeper
is still a soldier in his or her own country's service, and is responsible
to his or her own national command, but serves under the control of the
UN force commander--a senior military officer from one of the countries
providing personnel for the UN mission.
Many new UN peacekeeping operations also include refugee assistance,
human rights monitoring, election supervision and the training of police
forces. For example, MINURCA is helping to organize and monitor elections
in the Central African Republic as another step towards political stability.
Monsieur Diallo, nous sommes très contents de pouvoir correspondre
Voici quelques questions:
a. Vous êtes-vous déjà trouvé dans des situations
b. Est-ce que la population de République centrafricaine se
sent-elle protégée par les gardiens de la paix et attend-elle
autre chose qu'une protection?
c. Quand vous aviez notre âge, pensiez-vous qu'un jour vous auriez
une telle mission?
Avec nos remerciements. Les élèves de la classe de CM2/4.
Lycee Francais Los Angeles, CA
a. Non, personellement, je ne me suis jamais retrouvé dans des
situations dangereuses. Toutefois, le personnel des missions du maintien
de la paix des Nations Unies doivent souvent travailler dans les régions
où ils font face aux dangers tels que les mines antipersonnels,
le conflit armé qui reprend, ou le banditisme.
b. La population se sent protégée par la présence
Nations Unies. Cette présence garantie
la paix sociale qui permet le retour à la vie normale. Je
crois que les Centrafricains attendent aussi un soutien a leurs propres
efforts visant a stabiliser leur pays.
c. Non, je ne pensais pas quand j'avais votre âge que j'aurais
une telle mission.
a. With the bombings that occurred in Africa, although not directly
affecting Central Africa, were there any effects felt where you are
as a result?
b. Do you feel that the work that you do is fairly-well accepted
by the citizens?
Do you ever face ridicule from people thinking that you really aren't
or that peacekeeping is too extremist?
c. From reading your background, I noticed you worked in Haiti.
I have just returned from volunteering in Haiti and was wondering
what your thoughts are/were on the political turmoil and human
rights abuses that were occurring there during your mission?
Thank you very much for taking time out of your day to answer not only
my questions, but all those questions presented to you.
Sincerely, Michelle Ervin
a. The terrorist bombings in Nairobi and Arusha did not
have any particular effect on the Central African Republic or our
b. In 'Centreafrique', as we often call it here, the work
of the United Nations and its peacekeepers is not only accepted, it
is welcomed. People are happy that UN peacekeepers are in the country to
assist. However, that attitude may vary from mission to mission. In Somalia
and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United Nations was not always understood
or trusted by certain segments of the population or parties in the conflict.
The parties themselves often did not live up to their commitments to seek
a peaceful solution to their differences, or even to respect cease-fires
and allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance by the UN. There
was little that UN peacekeepers could build on. These fundamental circumstances
can spell disaster or success for a field mission.
c. Fortunately, the turmoil didn't occur during my service in Haiti,
which lasted from October 1990 to January 1991, when the UN assisted with
Hello, we are Kvinta A from Gymnasium Turnov (Czech republic). We have
a. Why did you make a decision to work for the UN? Do you think
that your job
is important and why?
b. What does your day in mission look like?
c. What is the most demanding part of your job?
d. What can people in Europe do for peace in Africa? 5.
Where does your family live?
e. Do you have problems with soldiers, rebels....?
If you want, please write us some memories from the war.
Thank you very much for your answers.
a. The world is one global village and is increasingly becoming so
through rapid advances in communication technology. For example, if it
was not for the recently introduced World Wide Web and electronic mail,
we could not exchange questions and answers as we are doing now.
This also means that massacres and genocide, ethnic violence, or even
what seem to be very local crises in the most remote regions of the
world can be known world-wide almost immediately. Global communication
promotes knowledge about cultures, countries and peoples that we did not
know before. But it can also be used as propaganda to incite hate and violence,
as the radio station "Milles Collines" ["A Thousand Hills"] did in openly
inciting massacres and genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
My job as Spokesman and Information Officer for MINURCA is therefore
important. Information can be an invaluable tool to ease tensions down
and call for peace, not violence. Rumours and ignorance can often
increase people's fears and lead to violence--or permit those who are against
peace to manipulate people. My job is to help give people the information
they need to work together and help their country through a difficult time,
b. My day is scheduled as such: military briefings, senior staff meetings,
contact with national and international press, political leaders,
students and diplomatic corps; and a daily interview with Radio MINURCA.
c. There are many demanding aspects of working in a UN peacekeeping
mission. Each of us is challenged by different problems.
For some people, it is very demanding to work in a team where people come
from many different countries. For others, they find the physical
conditions we work in very demanding--adjusting to a new environment and
climate, different customs. Many of us find it very demanding, both
physically and emotionally, to work long hours, often dealing with disagreements
and tensions between different groups involved in a conflict. The
stress is especially great on some people because they miss their families.
Personally, I am comfortable in my work. I adjust well to new places
and have served in several missions, so no part of my work here is especially
d. To build peace in Africa, it is of utmost importance to lift the
continent out of poverty. Africa needs international investment in development
and technology. Prosperity usually promotes peace. Hunger and competition
between people over scarce resources starts conflicts that can lead to
wars and refugee movements. Also, the many tribal groups on the continent
need to see each others as good neighbours and friends, and not as competitors.
e. My family lives in Burkina Faso and the United States. MINURCA is
a designated non-familiy mission, so I could not bring them there to live
with me together.
f. After the mutinees came to an end, the Central African Republic
is now a country on the road to reconciliation, albeit with many question
marks. However, there is no open fighting - it's not a war zone.
Right now, MINURCA is helping Central Africans organize and monitor
democratic legislative elections as a step toward restoring people's
confidence in the democratic process and their elected leaders.
Hello my name is Jessica Snyder. I attend River Valley High School.
I would like to know some things about the country where the
MINURCA mission is located:
a. What is your government like?
b. How is the school system there?
Please write back very soon. Jessica Snyder
a. The government of Central African Republic is not "my" government--I
am from Burkina Faso. The Government of the Central African Republic
has a president, a prime minister and a parliament and a national assembly.
Elections are about to be held for members of the national assembly
with the assistance of MINURCA.
b. The school system is modeled after the French school
system, and French is the official language of education. Students
in public schools have suffered in recent years, as teachers have not been
paid. Some students go to schools run by the church.
Note: All following questions came from students in Finland.
QIs it quite safe to come to RCA, is it just like being in Helsinki,
because our teacher is perhaps coming there to a conference?
There is no war going on in the Central African Republic and different
groups in the country are seeking to work together better. It may
not be like Helsinki but, in general, it is safe. That doesn't mean
that there is no danger of crime or violence. The UN's presence here
was requested because there was a fear of renewed violence and instability,
and there are--as in many places around the world, including Helsinki,
I suppose--incidents of banditry and violence. One of our tasks is to help
improve the training of the national police and the "gendarmerie" in the
country to help maintain law and order, and improve security for the whole
How does the climate affect your work?
(from Janette Kovanen, Eveliina Lauhio, Ilona Makinen and Tina Hyyppa)
The climate is good, there is 6 months of rain but one
should be careful with malaria.
What was your assignment as the Special Envoy of the President of Burkina
As Special Envoy of the president of Burkina Faso, my
assignment was to maintain and improve political relations between
Burkina Faso and other countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, and to
track evolving crises.
What kind of military equipment do you have?
As a civilian, I don't have any military equipment. Soldiers
serving in MINURCA are lightly armed for self defence, and have helmets,
bulletproof vests and other such military equipment.
What do you think is the ABC of peace ?
(From Mikko Frisk, Tommi Rantanen, Ville Heikkinen)
The ABCs of peace are, I think: Tolerance; Respect for
human rights of all people; Justice and Equal Opportunity for
progress for every individual, ethnic group, religion, race and nation.
What kind of agreement was the Bangui agreement? What is the situation
(from Anna, Antti, Ilona, Eerik)
The Bangui agreement was a very long and complex agreement covering
such issues as: the establishment of a government of national unity; agreement
on a new voting timetable and revision of the electoral code; an amnesty
for offenses committed during the mutiny, the restructuring of the
Central African armed forces and holding general elections. Progress has
been made on many of these points. A joint Government/MINURCA committee
has been set up to assist the programme of demobilization and the
restructuring of the Central African forces; the general election
is to take place for 22 November and 13 December 1998 with MINURCA's help.
Has anybody tried to kill you? (from Maju, Harri, Joni, Sampsa)
Fortunately, nobody ever tried to kill me.