More UN peacekeepers called into action, even as conflicts continue
In the annals of United Nations peace operations, 2006 will go down as a record-breaker in terms of deployment, with just under 100,000 uniformed and civilian personnel serving in the field by the end of the year.
Behind this unprecedented growth was a series of peace agreements, ceasefires or cessations of hostilities accomplished with UN political and diplomatic support.
“A Chance for a Safer World”announced a January 2007 cover of The Economist, over a photo of Spanish UN peacekeepers grouped in Lebanon under a dozen UNblue flags.
“Call it peacekeeping, peace-enforcement, stabilization or anything else, but one thing is clear: the world’s soldiers are busier than ever operating in the wide grey zone between war and peace,”began an article headlined “Peacekeeping: Call the Blue Helmets.”
Throughout the year, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations,raised other flags.
Would the UN be able to muster enough troops to meet the demands, which for current and possible future missions could reach 140,000 personnel? Was there a concomitant political will to make real peace? Were the Blue Helmets being called upon to keep peace where there is no peace to keep?
Both the outgoing Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and the incoming, Ban Kimoon, placed Darfur at the top of their agendas. But at the close of 2006, the agony of Darfur grew worse, and the pressure on the UN more intense to stop the fighting and protect the people. The Sudanese Government in Khartoum, holding out against concerted international pressure to accept a UN presence in Darfur, slowly seemed to be moving towards agreement that the UN could help beef up the 7,000 African Union troops there. In late 2006, the UN began deploying small numbers of civilians, police and troops in two phases of support that were expected to culminate in a unique UN-AUjoint “hybrid”operation. Pressure grew to send peacekeepers to the Chad/Central African Republic/Sudan border region where the Darfur conflict threatened to ignite regional war.Meanwhile the UN’s 10,000 troops deployed in South Sudan continued to shore up the 2005 North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement as part of the UN mission in Khartoum (UNMIS).
Elsewhere, UN peace operations helped to protect a fragile peace and provide a measure of stability in a variety of complex, post-conflict situations.
The high point of the year was perhaps the surprisingly successful elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Commentary about the DRC’s prospects as a functioning country and the UN’s peacekeeping role there had long been pessimistic.But even cynics cheered both the Congolese and the UN when more than 20 million voted in the two rounds of polling.
In Lebanon, soldiers from almost 30 countries, including from Europe – donning Blue Helmets for the first time in significant numbers in more than 10 years – deployed in record time to the expanded UNIFIL, following the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict during the past summer.
On the other hand, the last peacekeepers of a two-year-old mission departed from Burundi on 31 December, having completed their mandate as scheduled and leaving behind democratically elected local and national structures. The peacekeeping operation has been succeeded by a UN integrated office which will continue to help the country move past the fragile post-conflict stage towards longterm stability.
In Haiti as well, while street violence continued in some neighbourhoods of Portau- Prince, two rounds of UN-supervised elections were held and new Government structures established.The UN continues to assist Haiti in providing security for its people while seeking ways to promote continued international support for the beleaguered nation.
In Timor-Leste, however, a new peacekeeping operation began after violence in April and May threatened to undo the progress since independence. Many argued that the previous UN mission had left too soon; others believed the UN intervention had not been thorough enough to leave behind a stable Government and reconciled population. With the security situation stabilized for now, Timor-Leste looks towards national elections in mid-2007.
Also in the field, UN mediation efforts to seek political solutions to prevent new conflicts from breaking out and old ones from flaring up continued in 2006. UN political missions and peace envoys were active in nearly a dozen countries, including in the Middle East and Somalia.
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari travelled twice to Myanmar, becoming the only international figure to mediate between senior Government officials as well as opposition figures including Aung San Suu Kyi.
In November, the UN’s mediation capacity received further acknowledgment as the Maoists and the Government in Nepal reached a historic agreement to lock up arms and share political space and power. The parties requested the UN to further assist them in implementing key aspects of their agreement by means of a political mission authorized by the Security Council on 23 January 2007.
A major gap in the UN peace and security architecture was closed with the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission, which in 2006 decided to focus on Burundi and Sierra Leone as its first countries to support in the wake of completed peacekeeping operations.
As 2007 opened, the new Secretary-General had proposed a restructuring of the headquarters peace operations support structure in an effort to better meet the burgeoning demands on the UN to assist countries emerging from conflict.
Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.
© United Nations 2007