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Press Conference by Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping and Field Support

9 Dec 2009

Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that while the Secretariat’s New Horizons initiative “would never make any headlines”, it was providing a framework for positive and broad-based discussions on making United Nations peacekeeping more effective on the ground.  Issued as a discussion paper in July, the study highlights the need to strengthen command and control systems at every level, including through more robust accountability frameworks between Headquarters and mission leaders.


Mr. Le Roy told reporters there had been “good progress” over the past few months –- in New York and in national capitals –- on pushing the process forward.  In addition, there was “good momentum” on discussing the report in the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, informally known as the C-34.  In light of new peacekeeping challenges and realities, New Horizons was an opportunity to examine key elements of the process that began nine years ago with the release of the landmark Brahimi Report, he said.


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations considered that perhaps some 70 per cent of the recommendations in the Brahimi Report had been implemented.  At the same time, he said, several crucial suggestions had not been taken up, including the so-called “two-step approach”, by which the Security Council, when setting up a new peacekeeping mission, would first adopt a resolution setting out the legal framework and structure, and then adopt a second text later to put it into effect.  That would allow the Secretariat time to carry out cost analyses and consider ways and means to mobilize human and material resources.  


Also at the press conference was Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, who highlighted some of the Brahimi Report’s outstanding recommendations dealing with support side issues, including the need for United Nations peacekeeping operations to leave a “light footprint” in the countries in which they operated. 


She said that, while Member States discussed the New Horizons initiative, the Department of Field Support was already weighing the benefits of several initiatives, such as establishing regional or global hubs from which staff could service a particular mission effectively without actually being in country.  That was also a better way to bolster missions in dangerous areas without putting more staff at risk. 


The Department of Field Support was looking to make encampments more sustainable.  It was discussing vital recurring challenges such as availability of water and fuel, including exploring the possibility of using solar power to deal with lighting and electrical issues, she said.


Mr. Le Roy added that since 2010 would mark the tenth anniversary of the Brahimi Report, the Peacekeeping Department was hoping that Member States would take the opportunity to endorse the report –- either in the C-34 or the General Assembly plenary -- and perhaps even consider new recommendations.


Turning to other issues, he told correspondents about his recent visits to key troop- and police-contributing countries, including India, Pakistan, China, Rwanda, and Nigeria, where he had discussed current challenges and ways in which the Peacekeeping Department could deal with them while improving its efficiency.  He was also pleased to report that at all his stops the respective Governments had expressed renewed commitment to United Nations peacekeeping.


On the two consecutive deadly attacks against the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), in which five peacekeepers were killed earlier this week, Mr. Le Roy said that, while the two tragic incidents were not linked, they nevertheless showed that the situation in the war-ravaged region in western Sudan remained “very risky and volatile.” 


Investigations were ongoing and he believed that several arrests had been made.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations would be following up with the Sudanese Government.  He had spoken with the UNAMID Force Commandeer and had been assured that the moral of the troops remained high even though the operation had suffered five casualties, and that all remained committed to working hard to ensure peace and protect the people of Darfur.


He next highlighted his recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he had witnessed improvements, as well as challenges in the country’s eastern region, including the Kivus.  Further, “big changes” had taken place in Ituri, where the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) had been instrumental in laying the ground for some 2 million people to return to their homes.  That was “quite an achievement” considering the situation in that restive province two or three years ago.  He cautioned that the Uganda-based Lord’s Resistance Army was still harassing local populations in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo, but less so than in recent years.


Following that visit, he said it had been important for Assistant Secretary-General Edmond Mulet to come to the Security Council and “put all our cards on the table” about the situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo, as there had long been concerns about obstacles to MONUC’s work.  On practical matters, he said that, since the beginning of the year, some 1,300 Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) members along with nearly 2,000 dependents and family members had been repatriated to Rwanda.  Responding to a question, he noted that the Peacekeeping Department and the Government kept track of the activities of the ex-fighters, ensuring that the Democratic Republic of the Congo would not send money or directives to those inside.


Ms. Malcorra highlighted her recent round of visits to Sudan, which had included Darfur as well as Southern Sudan.  That country “was always a high priority”, but especially in light of upcoming elections this spring.  The Department of Field Support was also closely following the situation in Somalia, where the United Nations had been charged with backing up the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  To that end, the backbone and logistic support after the most recent round of violence in Mogadishu had been handled by the United Nations, and she paid tribute to Ugandan troops that had organized medical evacuations and other critical interventions.


Responding to questions on the safety and security issues, she said that extreme situations over the past few months had made it clear that the challenges to staff on the ground were very high.  “There must be a way to help those that we are there to serve, while also protecting our staff,” she said, citing recent troubling incidents in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Darfur.  “We need to adapt to rapidly changing situations.”  She added that one chapter of New Horizons dealt with safety and security of United Nations staff and associated personnel.


Answering several questions on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Mr. Le Roy said that he did expect any modification of that important mission’s mandate and he was not requesting any.  UNIFIL’s main challenges remained maintaining security and pressing ahead with the search for weapons, with the cooperation of Lebanese armed forces.  While there had been sporadic incidents in southern Lebanon, he said that, since 2006, there had not been a single casualty along the Blue Line.  In addition, the Lebanese army was now fully established south of the Litani River.  He also noted that UNIFIL’s withdrawal plan for Ghajar had been accepted by the Lebanese Government and he believed that Israel was seriously debating the plan.


Asked about the future on MONUC, he said that mission’s basic configuration must remain virtually the same.  At the same time, MONUC’s mandate contained 41 priority tasks, but the focus should especially be on civilian protection; security sector reform; and consolidation in the east.  When the Security Council took up the mandate this month, the Peacekeeping Department would propose using the next six months to discuss, with the Government, a reconfiguration of the mission along those lines.  He hoped the Council would consider significant reconfigurations in June.