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Press Conference by Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers

29 May 2013

United Nations peacekeepers must be constantly equipped with more and better tools and skills so they could fully meet their mandates in increasingly risky environments, Hervé Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said at Headquarters today.

Speaking at a press conference following ceremonies to honour fallen United Nations peacekeepers, he said 111 of them had died in the line of duty during the course of 2012, while 25 had lost their lives since the beginning of this year.  However, that “sad reality” also provided an opportunity to reflect on the dedication of those peacekeepers and on how new peacekeeping challenges would be faced.  Indeed, with the imminent establishment of the newest peacekeeping mission in Mali, the strong and specific challenges in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and possible missions in Somalia and Syria, peacekeeping must evolve with the changing circumstances, said Mr. Ladsous, who was accompanied by Ameerah Haq, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support.

One important element was that peacekeeping needed “constantly more and better tools, more and better skills”, he continued.  “We must make sure that the missions are given whatever is necessary for them to fulfil their mandate in sometimes increasingly high-risk environments.”  He said the deployment of unarmed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the North and South Kivu Provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, expected to take place later this year, would be very important in improving awareness of the situation for peacekeepers on the ground and in deterring “some spoilers” from carrying out their intentions.  The process of procuring the UAVs was well under way, he confirmed.

At the same time, he continued, peacekeeping must be flexible because the environments in which different missions operated varied considerably, from very stable, long-established missions such as the one in Cyprus, to new situations like Syria.  However, peacekeeping was a global partnership, he said, quoting the theme for the 2013 observance.  It reflected the key role played by partners such as Member States, host countries and regional organizations in helping the United Nations address threats to international peace and security.  “This partnership needs to be constantly nurtured, because otherwise peacekeeping simply cannot happen.”

Mr. Ladsous also provided updates on three specific areas:  the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the occupied Syrian Golan, where a very sedate situation in which practically nothing ever happened, much to the credit of the Force, had all of a sudden changed when events in Syria had begun to unfold.

On the situation in the Great Lakes region, he said that he and the Secretary-General had just returned from a trip that had culminated in an important summit in Addis Ababa last weekend, between the 11 signatories and 4 guarantor organizations of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region.

Touching on preparations for the deployment of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), he said it would become operational on 1 July, subject to confirmation by the Security Council.  The various contributions needed to complement the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) personnel already on the ground were now being mobilized, he said.

Ms. Haq said it was important to adapt to the new challenges and larger mandates entrusted to both peacekeeping and political missions.  The Department of Field Support was currently providing support to some 15 peacekeeping missions and 21 special political missions and offices worldwide.

Responding to a question, Mr. Ladsous confirmed that the Secretary-General had spoken to the Austrian Foreign Minister last week about the situation in the occupied Syrian Golan, but it was neither for the Secretary-General nor himself to comment on decisions made or to be made by the European Union.  However, what was important was that participation in UNDOF had remained stable over the last three months.  Commending those countries still maintaining their personnel on the ground despite the constant threats and danger, he said his Department had taken all possible steps to enhance their safety in “a very complex” situation.

When asked whether the African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) contingent was up to United Nations standards and ready to deploy, Mr Ladsous said standards varied from country to country.  “Some are pretty close to the United Nations standards in terms either of numbers (a battalion of 850 men); some are a little below,” he said.  “There is also the matter of equipment, and for some countries who are under AFISMA now, there is still quite a bit of work to be done.”  To that end, the Department had given itself “some months” in which to ensure that the contingent indeed met United Nations standards and would be “up to speed” to deploy.  At the same time, the human rights due-diligence policy must be taken into account when re-hatting troops, and efforts were already under way to screen military personnel and vet their commanding officers.

Expanding on that, Ms. Haq added that the Addis Ababa Summit had established a trust fund for all the AFISMA troops, with the specific aim of addressing issues of readiness, especially with regard to equipment.

Asked about the deployment of UAVs, more popularly known as “drones”, Mr. Ladsous reiterated that they would be “unarmed”, basically “flying cameras”, if somewhat sophisticated.  “But, as I said earlier, it is to give better information to the commanders of MONUSCO (United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) to improve the safety of our troops.”