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Press Conference by the Under-Secretary-General of Peacekeeping Operations

15 Apr 2011

Despite very difficult circumstances, including the loss of many personnel, United Nations peacekeeping had passed critical tests in tackling “make-or-break” situations in Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti and Sudan, Secretariat officials said at Headquarters today.


“Of course we’re not perfect, but peacekeepers made quite a difference,” Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said at the regular quarterly media briefing, in which he was accompanied by Anthony Banbury, Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support.  “We stood firm, in conformity with what the Council asked us to do.”


Mr. Le Roy said much work had been done to improve operations since the early 1990s, when outcomes in Rwanda, the Balkans and elsewhere had shaken the Organization.  Unfortunately, recent months had seen a spike in the numbers of casualties suffered by peacekeeping missions and other parts of the system.  In fact, in the 10 days from 30 March to 9 April, 44 people had died in diverse situations in Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire, Afghanistan, Sudan and Liberia.  “We are working in a very difficult environment,” he emphasized, paying tribute to those lost.


Yet, given that tough environment, the Organization’s peacekeeping accomplishments had been impressive, Mr. Le Roy continued.  In Sudan, the whole world had dismissed the possibility of a successful North-South referendum as late as December, warning of a return to civil war.  In the aftermath of the mainly peaceful vote, much credit had gone to the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) and the Department of Field Support.  “Clearly we made a difference,” the Under-Secretary-General reiterated.


He went on to note that following disputed October presidential polls that had drawn huge demonstrations and threatened stability, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), in full coordination with the Organization of American States (OAS), had been able to contribute to a political solution.  The results of the second round of elections had been accepted and a peaceful transition was anticipated.  Elsewhere, the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) had stayed in place amid fierce fighting and had enforced the ban against the use of heavy weapons against civilians, in implementation of Security Council resolution 1975 (2011).  “We don’t hear any more heavy weapons in Abidjan,” he pointed out.


Mr. Banbury said it was evident that major reforms under the global field support strategy had boosted operational capability.  The global service centre in Italy and the regional one in Uganda, as well as the standardization of approaches and the modularization of deployment, had clearly made a difference, he added, noting that rapid reinforcement, as had occurred in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti, was much more viable.


Cost-saving measures had also made operations more affordable in a difficult financial environment without compromising operational capabilities, he said, pointing to the regionalization of aircraft, the extension of the life cycles of vehicles and other practices now in place.  Those measures would have a very important medium- and long-term impact on operations and mandates, he said.


In response to questions, Mr. Le Roy denied that UNOCI had taken sides in the Ivorian crisis or entertained any goal of “regime change”.  UNOCI had hoped that the situation would be settled by political means, but heavy weapons had been used against both civilians and the peacekeeping mission even during negotiations.  Given the specific mandate of resolution 1975 (2011) to stop such attacks, UNOCI had had no choice but to act, he said, stressing that, President Alassane Ouattara’s forces used heavy weapons against civilians, the mission could have targeted them, as well.  It was true that President Ouattara’s forces had taken advantage of the actions of UNOCI and the French Licorne forces supporting them to launch an assault on former President Laurent Gbagbo’s residence, but the initiative had been their own, he emphasized.


In response to comments about an apparent “post-colonial” operation in Abidjan, in which the Licorne forces had done the “heavy lifting”, Mr. Banbury said it would be preferable if peacekeeping missions had all the capabilities they needed under their own command, but they were frequently lacking, particularly in terms of attack helicopters because countries wished to keep those under their own command.  The issue of missions not getting the capabilities they needed was receiving a lot of attention, but it remained a problem, he added.  It was sometimes, therefore, absolutely necessary to be supported by national militaries, he said, citing the United States military’s critical assistance following the 12 January 2010 earthquake in Haiti.


To further questions on Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Le Roy said the relevant Security Council resolution helped peacekeepers take a more robust stance by clearly specifying action against heavy weapons targeting civilians.  He underlined that commitments and safeguards were in place to ensure that Mr. Gbagbo and his family were treated correctly, despite the rough treatment suffered by his wife and son on their way to house arrest in the Golf Hotel.  “Blue Helmets” were just outside their room now, he said, adding that he had no independent knowledge of about the reported arrest of Charles Blé Goudé, the head of the Young Patriots group appointed Youth Minister by Mr. Gbagbo.


Asked about logistics during the Ivorian crisis, Mr. Banbury said the Department of Field Support had used agile new procedures to set up an operational centre in Bouaké, ensuring the ability of UNOCI to continue normal operations.


On Libya, Mr. Le Roy said proposals for a United Nations peacekeeping or peacebuilding presence were still at the “brainstorming” stage, with several options possible.  A monitoring group might be needed if there was a ceasefire, he said, adding that disarmament and demobilization units might be needed if there was agreement on other processes.


Turning to Haiti, Mr. Banbury said the independent panel of experts on the causes of the cholera epidemic had more or less finished its work and would probably present its report to the Secretary-General by the beginning of May, after which the findings would be made public.  He explained that a consultant hired to make recommendations on preventive measures to protect peacekeeping personnel had done a good job, but had not been asked to investigate the causes of the epidemic.