Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping

20 May 2009

Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping

20 May 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY Under-secretary-general for peacekeeping

While the activities of huge, complex peacekeeping operations in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo grabbed the headlines, there were several smaller United Nations missions carrying out their mandates “quietly and effectively” and, along the way, helping to improve the lives of local populations in their host countries, the world body’s top peacekeeping official said today.

During his quarterly press conference at Headquarters, Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the United Nations managed 18 missions, far more than the two or three that were always in the news, and the smaller, more traditional operations also deserved attention.  “Quietly, without making the headlines”, they were doing great work, he said, noting that local populations in Burundi, Haiti, Timor-Leste and elsewhere were benefiting.

Having just returned from the Middle East, where “I have seen this with my own eyes and was quite impressed,” he said the 35-year-old United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) had not only been able to maintain peace in Syrian Golan, it had also garnered the respect of local civilians and the cooperation of both Israeli and Syrian authorities.

Likewise, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was making a “clear difference”, even as circumstances changed on the ground.  Mr. Le Roy said that, thanks to UNIFIL, no soldiers had been killed or wounded at the border between southern Lebanon and Israel since 2006.  Collaboration between the mission and Lebanese armed forces had increased and the civilian population was pleased with UNIFIL’s work.  All the Lebanese and Israeli officials he met had expressed appreciation for the mission’s efforts.  Further, Israel had recently announced that it would hand over to UNIFIL maps of where it dropped cluster bombs in Lebanon during its 2006 war with Hezbollah.

At the same time, Mr. Le Roy said, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support were aware of the challenges facing such missions as the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).  Those major operations, as well as others, like the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), were continually under review.

In fact, he continued, the Department’s current “New Horizon” study aimed to examine all United Nations missions and to consider such issues as how they could be made more effective, and whether they were the right tool for the specific circumstances in which they operated.  That study would also look at ways to build more partnerships with regional bodies, such as the African Union and the European Union.

Responding to questions about the projected $8.2 billion in peacekeeping financing currently being discussed by the General Assembly’s budget committee, he acknowledged that the cost of peacekeeping had “increased drastically” over the past decade.  However, studies had shown that United Nations-led missions were more cost-effective than those that could be mounted by individual Governments (See Press Releases GA/AB/3902 and GA/AB/3905).

Nevertheless, he said the Peacekeeping Department was always reviewing operational costs to ensure finances were used most efficiently.  To a related question, he said he was pleased that President Barack Obama had taken an interest in addressing the United States peacekeeping arrears.  President Obama had submitted an appropriation of some $860 million that was currently before Congress.  As for the overall budget, the Peacekeeping Department was awaiting a decision by the General Assembly, he added.

Tackling a series of queries about specific missions, he acknowledged that contingents serving the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) were having difficulties securing adequate fuel supplies.  That issue had been lingering since the United Nations had taken over the operation from the European Union.  The nearest fuel refinery had stopped working, but, in the meantime, the United Nations was airlifting in fuel from nearby operations, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It had also sorted out the issue of 15-day fuel supplies for MINURCAT contingents, he said, adding:  “Now we consider it behind us and the Irish and Finnish contingent are happy with what we have done.”

On bolstering the strength of the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, Mr. Le Roy said the recent Brussels donors’ conference had been “quite an important success” and had led to major pledges of assistance and the actual delivery of key necessities, including telecommunications equipment, security equipment, fuel storage units, medical supplies, and airfield fire-fighting trucks, among others.  Some other supplies had been acquired from both the Logistics Base in Brindisi and the now-defunct United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).  He hoped AMISOM’s other requirements could be provided through assessed contributions.

He refuted what one correspondent said were verifiable reports that the United Nations was cooperating with Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel indicted by the International Criminal Court, but who is now working with the Congolese army in the volatile eastern region of that country.  Mr. Le Roy said that MONUC had a mandate to work with the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), but that did not mean those Forces were being given a “blank check”.  The United Nations had made it very clear that it would in no way cooperate with Ntaganda.

He went on to say MONUC was aware –- and concerned -- that there were some “rogue elements” operating there, and the Security Council mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo had made that point in Kinshasa yesterday.  Some operations were FARDC-run, but when United Nations peacekeepers were involved, a serious effort was made to ensure that no rogue elements participated and that all troops behaved properly.  When the soldiers did not, the Peacekeeping Department went to the Government and raised the issue.

“MONUC keeps its eyes open” and, moreover, it did not participate in operations in which it had not been in on the planning process.  He said there was no denying that Ntaganda was in the area and he could not say whether there might have been contact between Ntaganda and the FARDC.  He reiterated that there had been no cooperation between Ntaganda and the United Nations.

On UNAMID, he said that hybrid operation still did not have enough helicopters to effectively carry out its mandate.  While the five tactical helicopters pledged by Ethiopia were expected to arrive next month, there had still been no pledges by any Government to provide the 18 duty-ready helicopters for Darfur.  “This is extremely regrettable,” he said, reiterating that, while the UNAMID force was in better shape and was beginning to make a difference, it still needed to be properly outfitted.  More broadly, he urged more European involvement in the United Nations missions in Africa.  That participation now stood at some 2 or 3 per cent and experience had shown that missions with a large European presence were better equipped.

Responding to questions about the Organization’s ongoing effort to stamp out sexual exploitation and abuse, Mr. Le Roy said fully implementing the Secretary-General’s “zero tolerance” policy was a still a major priority.  The number of allegations of such abuse had decreased between 2006 and 2008, he said, noting that there had been 357 allegations in 2006, 127 in 2007, and 83 in 2008.  That “clear decrease” meant that staff training and other policies put in place were showing some progress.  The Peacekeeping Department was not completely satisfied, however, and would continue to push for better results and more transparency regarding the handling of cases once the offenders had been transferred to their home countries.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.