UNITED NATIONS – As the United Nations gets ready for the opening of the 59th session of the General Assembly next week, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has asked the 191 member states to provide more than 30,000 troops for an anticipated surge in demand for peacekeeping operations in the world’s battle zones.
"The number and scope of UN peace operations are approaching what may become their highest levels ever, improving prospects for conflict resolution but also stretching thin the capacities of the system," Annan said in a report to the General Assembly on Tuesday.
The demand has been prompted by three factors: the possible creation of a new 10,000-strong peacekeeping force for battle-scarred Sudan, and significant increases in troops for two existing peace missions in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
If 30,000 troops are added to the 50,000 already deployed, the total number of UN troops later this year would exceed the all-time high of 78,000 troops during the world body’s peacekeeping peak in 1993.
Since then, the number of peacekeeping troops declined to 12,000 by mid-1999, and gradually rose to 37,500 by mid-2000 and 51,500 by early this year, according to figures released by the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
"The jump in the demand for UN peace operations is a welcome signal for new opportunities for the international community to help bring conflicts to a peaceful solution," Annan said in his annual report to the General Assembly.
However, he warns, those opportunities can only be truly seized "if the necessary commitments of political, financial and human resources are made, and if each peace process is seen through completion."
Annan also said that planning estimates for new or potential operations indicate that "the heightened demand will stretch, to the limit and beyond, the capacity of the United Nations to respond."
"The increased demand for UN operations that has arisen in 2004 represents a challenge not seen since the rapid increase in the scale and complexity of operations in the 1990s," he added.
The UN’s 17 peacekeeping operations currently in force extend from Cyprus and Georgia to Sierra Leone and Western Sahara. The four new operations authorized this year are in Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Haiti and Burundi.
Annan is seeking more troops despite plans to downsize at least two existing UN operations: the 11,500-strong UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the 1,600-strong UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET).
Brazil, which is the lead military force in the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, complained last week that it does not have enough troops to stop renewed conflict in the Caribbean nation.
The Security Council authorized a UN force of 6,700 troops to Haiti last June. But so far, only about 2,500 have arrived in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital.
"This gap needs to be filled by somebody," Col. Luiz Felipe Carbonell, a spokesman for the Brazilian contingent, told reporters last week.
Last month, Annan called for a doubling of the current peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), from 10,800 to about 23,900. The request for more troops was intended to strengthen the UN mission in DRC in view of increased violence in that country, and the possibility of elections in mid-2005.
In his appeal to member states, Annan also said he is "seeking support for peacekeeping from developing and developed states alike."
But as of July, the 10 largest troop contributors to UN operations were from developing nations: Pakistan (8,544 troops), Bangladesh (7,163), Nigeria (3,579), Ghana (3,341), India (2,934), Ethiopia (2,863), South Africa (2,480), Uruguay (1,962), Jordan (1,864), and Kenya (1,831).
In contrast, the number of troops from western nations averaged less than 600. The largest contributors were United Kingdom (567 troops), Canada (564), France (561), Ireland (479), and the United States (427).
While it may be possible to find the troops he needs, Annan points that there may be "critical gaps" in specialized military capabilities, such as tactical air support and field medical facilities, as well as a dearth of French-speaking troops.
In Haiti, where the predominant languages are French and Creole, most of the UN troops either speak only Portuguese or Spanish.
The three largest military contingents in Haiti are from Portuguese-speaking Brazil (1,210 troops) and Spanish-speaking Argentina (486) and Chile (454).
But most western states, including the United States, France, Britain and Germany, remain reluctant to provide peacekeepers, mostly for political and security reasons, abdicating the role of peacekeeping primarily to developing nations.
Last year, Annan complained that although these countries have the world’s best-equipped military forces, they have refused to actively participate in peacekeeping operations, except to provide training, logistical support and equipment.
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