|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS
While the United Nations was preparing for potentially violent reactions to the International Criminal Court’s possible indictment of the President of Sudan on Wednesday, there were no plans to scale down the two peacekeeping operations in that country, Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said today.
No one within the Organization had any preliminary information about the Court’s final decision on indicting President Omer Hassan al-Bashir, Mr. Le Roy stressed at a Headquarters press conference. However, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was making contingency plans to respond to a spectrum of possible reactions, but would not change its patrolling pattern on Wednesday.
He said the Court was expected to announce its decision on the Prosecution’s application for an arrest warrant against the President on 4 March 2009 at 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Meanwhile, all regional Governments and rebel groups were being asked to exercise maximum restraint and avoid using the Court’s decision as an opportunity to launch attacks. So far, there were no expectations that the United Nations missions would be specifically targeted.
In that regard, he highlighted the Sudanese Government’s statement during a weekend meeting between Rodolphe Adada, Joint Special Representative of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), and Mutrif Siddiq, Under-Secretary in Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that it would assume its “full duty of protecting UN missions and embassies in Sudan against any negative impact” that may result from the Court’s possible decision against Sudan’s political leadership.
Emphasizing that the United Nations missions would adapt if violence broke out, Mr. Le Roy specifically noted that tensions on the Chad-Sudan border seemed to be on the rise, with reports of both increases in military forces on the Chadian side and movement of supplies to Chadian rebels on the Sudanese side. It was unclear whether that was directly related to the forthcoming Court decision or if the timing was coincidental. The recent agreement of goodwill between the Sudanese Government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the main rebel force in Darfur, was an example of “fighting while talking”, because fighting had continued on the ground.
Reiterating that United Nations peacekeeping forces had no mandate to assist in arresting the President if a warrant were issued, Mr. Le Roy said the Organization’s interaction with the Court was governed by a relationship agreement dating from 2004 and approved by the General Assembly. Under that agreement, if requested by the International Criminal Court, the United Nations would provide only reports prepared in the course of implementing existing mandates, such as those normally provided to the Security Council. The United Nations did not undertake specific investigations on behalf of the International Criminal Court, the Under-Secretary-General stressed.
Turning to Afghanistan, he said it was clear that the large coordinating role given to the United Nations by the Security Council was a complicated one, but the international community’s key political actor, Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, had the confidence of many of the local players and of the international community. Moreover, following the General Assembly’s decision to double its funding, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was stepping up its activities and expanding its presence on the ground.
He said that despite President Hamid Karzai’s announcement on Saturday calling for elections to be organized in compliance with the Constitution -- which would imply also moving up the elections from the previously agreed date of 20 August -- the United Nations system continued to believe that an election before late summer would be very difficult to organize, primarily due to logistical and technical challenges. The date of 20 August originally proposed by the Independent Elections Commission therefore seemed reasonable.
“We consider it almost impossible get a credible election in April” because of the challenges of securing the necessary election materials and ensuring budgetary and administrative capacity by then, Mr. Le Roy continued. The debate would continue for a while yet, but consensus was clearly needed within Afghanistan on the best way to proceed, in conformity with the Constitution.
In responding to several questions, he said the Afghan authorities were clearly organizing the election, but they needed, and had asked for, technical support. The cost of running the election was estimated at $220 million in addition to $110 million for the nearly completed registration process, and funding would have to come from the international community. Donors had pledged about $120 million of the roughly $220 million needed.
Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he acknowledged that the situation in that country remained “volatile”, but spotlighted the Secretary-General’s recent meetings in the region with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who had both praised the Organization’s work. Furthermore, relations between the two countries were “clearly improved”, as demonstrated by their joint military efforts against the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR).
While estimating that more than 1,000 FDLR fighters and dependents had left eastern Congo, he expressed concern that some of the remaining rebels had retaken certain positions since Rwanda’s withdrawal last Thursday. The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) had developed a plan with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to support the Congolese army’s operations against FDLR.
He went on to say that part of the Peacekeeping Department’s appeal for 3,000 reinforcements in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been met with pledges from a number of countries, but, as in Sudan, MONUC still lacked 18 military transport helicopters. The capacities of both missions “were undermined without them”.
Turning to another hotspot, he said the Secretary-General would soon issue a regular report on Somalia, including on support to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). A decision by the General Assembly on the support package was expected by the end of March. Meanwhile, a donor’s conference for the AMISOM Trust Fund, which, in addition to assessed contributions, would be one of the two funding channels for United Nations support, was being scheduled for late March or early April. A separate Secretary-General’s report to assess whether the political, security and humanitarian situation on the ground was conducive to a United Nations peacekeeping operation was expected to be submitted to the Security Council by 15 April, as requested by Council resolution 1863 (2009), so that the Council could take a decision in June.
Pressed about the responses of possible troop-contributing countries to a possible Somalia mission, he said the gap in AMISOM forces of 3,000 to 4,000 troops would be helped by additional battalions from Burundi and Uganda in the coming days. If a United Nations force was ultimately sent to Somalia -– and an estimated 22,000 troops would be required if the mandate extended to the whole country -- African Union forces would most likely be there, but so far no country had stepped forward saying “I want to come into Somalia”. Nor had any country yet volunteered to lead a multinational force, which remained the preferred scenario to meet the challenges on the ground.
On a positive note, the Under-Secretary-General mentioned how the presence of the United Nations mission in Lebanon was unquestionably recognized as positive by all parties. President Jose Ramos-Horta of Timor-Leste had also praised the United Nations mission in his country during a Security Council meeting last week, mentioning that it enjoyed a higher approval rating than the Government itself. A recent visit to Haiti suggested that the mission there had also contributed to improvements in security and created a glimmer of hope among the residents of Cité Soleil.
The Under-Secretary-General highlighted how a wide spectrum of local authorities, political figures and different civil society groups had expressed their appreciation of the contribution that the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) had made to the country. A donor conference was tentatively scheduled for 13 and 14 April in Washington, DC, and the Secretary-General would travel to Haiti with former United States President Bill Clinton on 9 and 10 March to raise awareness about the country’s fragile situation and highlight the potential opportunities to achieve economic security.
Turning back to Africa, he noted that the mission in Sierra Leone had successfully been closed and the Peacekeeping Department was considering the potential for drawing down its Mission in Liberia. Cote d’Ivoire had also been stabilized. After receiving a mandate in January to take over the European Union Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic Mission (EUFOR), the United Nations would be ready to do so on 15 March.
To a question about the deployment status of UNAMID peacekeepers, he said it remained at 64 per cent, with 80 per cent expected by July. Contingents from Egypt, Senegal, Ethiopia, United Republic of Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Thailand, Nepal and Niger were expected in the coming weeks and months. The delay was no longer a question of hurdles thrown up by the Sudanese Government, nor a logistical problem on the mission’s part. Contributing countries had to equip their forces, and it was possible that they were proceeding more slowly ahead of the International Criminal Court’s decision, but the Peacekeeping Department remained confident that they would come. Even without them, however, UNAMID’s capacity was already visibly stronger and the emphasis should be placed on ensuring the forces on the ground had the capacity to discharge their mandate fully.
Asked whether the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was working with Hizbullah to investigate recent rocket launches into Israel, he said the Force was working in full cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces.
To a question about requests by the Government of Chad that the United Nations pay for the use of facilities constructed by EUFOR, he said no agreement had been made regarding such payments. As for the withdrawal of Poland’s peacekeeping troops, the Polish battalion was expected to remain in Chad at least until October or November.
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