Beef up peacekeeping forces, Blair tells UN

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Prime Minister Tony Blair will today call on fellow world leaders to end the United Nations' "dismal" record in peacekeeping.

Prime Minister Tony Blair will today call on fellow world leaders to end the United Nations' "dismal" record in peacekeeping.

In a speech to the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in New York Mr Blair will call for the organisation to adopt a more rigorous attitude towards such "blue helmet" missions - following debacles in the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone.

Mr Blair will argue in a speech to the biggest ever gathering of world leaders that fundamental reform of the UN is essential.

He will say that potential peacekeepers need a far more rigorous mandate than can currently be supplied by the UN and give support to a British document claiming a staff college should be set up to train potential leaders sent into some of the world's worst troublespots.

Mr Blair will also use his address to the UN gathering to argue that future peace missions should be much better thought out than those that saw international troops standing idly by while crimes against humanity were committed.

Britain will submit a paper to the UN saying the UK would be happy to host any future staff college, with the emphasis being on training to ensure future missions can carry out UN mandates to the full.

His focus on the UN's peacekeeping role comes as British soldiers remain as hostages to the West Side Boys militia gang in Sierra Leone.

Mr Blair joined more than 150 other heads of state or government to set the international body on course for the coming century.

He was accompanied by his wife Cherie and their three-month-old son Leo for the family's first official visit since his birth.

The premier will be one of 33 leaders making speeches to the special UN assembly today, following outgoing American president Bill Clinton.

Mrs Blair is expected this week to take on some of her first public engagements since the birth of baby Leo in May - alongside First Lady Hillary Clinton, who is standing for election to the Senate for the New York seat.

As well as charity events, Mrs Blair is expected to take part in a legal seminar in her role as one of Britain's leading employment lawyers.

The Prime Minister will use the summit to hold private talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and to say farewell to Mr Clinton before American Presidential elections in November.

The Prime Minister will also meet fellow EU leaders in the margins of the gathering including Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Mr Blair began his visit to New York earlier today by attending a dinner of fellow Commonwealth leaders, hosted by South African President Thabo Mbeki, following their series of round table talks yesterday with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

A spokesman for Mr Cook said the Commonwealth leaders had concentrated on trying to make the organisation not just "punitive but pro-active", trying to head off trouble in countries such as Pakistan where a military dictatorship has taken over from the elected government.