Annan rewrites the rules for UN peace-keeping

Admitting that morale has hit rock bottom, secretary-general calls on the US and Britain to train new rapid response units
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The Independent Online

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, presented proposals yesterday to prevent future peace-keeping fiascos, acknowledging that the organisation's operations had hit rock bottom after several disastrous missions, most recently in Sierra Leone, where 500 troops were taken hostage.

The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, presented proposals yesterday to prevent future peace-keeping fiascos, acknowledging that the organisation's operations had hit rock bottom after several disastrous missions, most recently in Sierra Leone, where 500 troops were taken hostage.

The success of Mr Annan's plan will depend on the financial and operational responses from such key member-states as the United States and Britain.

The proposals call for these and other countries to train multinational units ready to intervene forcefully at short notice. The plan shies away from calling for a UN standing army, a notion strongly resisted by the US.

The scheme was drawn up by a panel headed by the diplomatic trouble-shooter Lakhdar Brahimi. Mr Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister, yesterday said the credibility of the UN as an international organisation had been undermined by its recent failures and that it needed urgent attention.

The panel, learning the lessons of a decade of UN débâcles, has rewritten the rules to ensure effective peace-keeping by means of robust rules of engagement if necessary.

Yesterday, Mr Annan urged leaders attending next month's millennium general assembly session to focus on the panel's report. Prompt action was "absolutely essential to make the United Nations truly credible as a force for peace", he said.

The report states bluntly that, while over the past decade the UN has "repeatedly failed to meet the challenge" of protecting people from war, "it can do no better today".

Mr Annan set up the 10-member panel in March after publishing two reports last year which accepted UN responsibility for failing to prevent the 1994 Rwanda genocide and for allowing Bosnian Serbs to overrun the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in 1995.

The 1993 Somalia mission is still remembered for the killing of 18 US marines, whose bodies were dragged through the streets. Even though the soldiers were under US command, the incident soured Washington's attitude to UN peacekeeping for years and continues to do so today.

This year the mission in Sierra Leone almost collapsed, and the administration in Kosovo faces overwhelming odds restoring ethnic harmony in the Serbian province.

Mr Brahimi recommends extra resources for the hard-pressed peace-keeping department, which during the Bosnian war was criticised for working New York office hours only. He said: "It's ridiculous to expect 32 officers to provide leadership for 25,000 soldiers scattered all over the world." There was a similar situation vis-Ã -vis the 8,600 civilian police officers in the field, who are controlled by nine staff at UN headquarters.

Mr Annan, who presided over the peace-keeping department's darkest days in the Nineties before becoming secretary general, pledged when he took office that he would only order troops into the field if there was a peace to keep, and in appropriate numbers.

He has since had to deal with the grim political reality that he is the servant of the powerful states in the 15-member Security Council, which have their own agenda, as he has discovered on issues ranging from East Timor to Kosovo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While the council may adopt resolutions ordering a specific number of soldiers into the field, the number made available almost never corresponds. The report proposes measures to close this "commitment gap", which has put serious strain on big operations such as the transitional administrations in Kosovo and East Timor.

The report also focuses on how to ensure rapid deployment of UN forces in the critical weeks after the signing of a peace agreement. The panel recommends that "on-call" lists of about 100 military and 100 police officers and experts from national armies and police forces should be established to improve existing arrangements. These personnel should be available for deployment at seven days' notice.

The panel urges deployment of 5,000-strong brigades of troops from different countries to act as an effective deterrent, rather than the mish-mash of battalions "unfamiliar with one another's doctrine, leadership and operational practice", as at present. Mr Brahimi made it clear that while he might personally favour a centralised force, "some of the big [countries] will not agree to the UN having a kind of standing army". That proposal raises hackles in the US, where the Republican-dominated Congress has concerns about perceived UN "world government".

* The UN confirmed that it had launched an investigation after a British-born worker was found dead in a hotel room in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Joseph Comerford was found on Friday, four days after arriving in the eastern town of Kisangani. It is believed he was found hanged.

He was based at the UN development programme's crisis unit in Geneva. "The UN mission is launching an investigation and UN personnel are already on the ground working to determine the cause of death," a spokesman said.

The UN team's work in Kisangani, which has witnessed violent clashes, has been suspended in the wake of Dr Comerford's death.

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