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UN: Broader Peacekeeping Role Sought In Conflict Zones

  • Robert McMahon

Demand is high for UN peacekeepers in many world trouble spots, but until now the scope of such operations has been uneven. UN missions empowered to disarm, demobilize and re-integrate warring sides have regularly been the most successful ones. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appealed to the Security Council to provide more timely support for such multitasked missions. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 24 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- UN peacekeeping operations that have overseen the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of warring sides in a timely way have a solid record of achievement.

Missions run by the United Nations in Cambodia, Mozambique and, eastern Slavonia in Croatia are seen as successes by the international community. The reasons most often cited are the political will of the warring sides and the ability of the UN to provide ex-combatants with the confidence to lay down their arms.

But there have been a number of UN failures, showing how difficult the process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration -- known as DDR -- really is. In Sierra Leone, for example, armed rebels continue to prevent peacekeepers from deploying despite an agreement that calls for them to turn in their weapons.

And the mission in Kosovo is seen as flawed in part because of the inability of peacekeepers to disarm ethnic Albanian fighters. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has launched a new effort, at the behest of the Security Council, to improve the effectiveness of UN peace-building activities. Annan this month formed an expert panel to review UN peace operations. The group is due to report in July.

Annan has also reviewed the DDR process and yesterday called for more flexibility by the Security Council in funding disarmament and demobilization tasks. He said this would allow activities such as the destruction of weapons to take place before voluntary funding is received.

Speaking after Annan, the Canadian ambassador to the UN, Robert Fowler, told the Council that the ability to act quickly in post-conflict zones is essential.

"It is an ephemeral opportunity that offers few second chances. Our goal must therefore be to get it right the first time and commit ourselves early and fully."

Fowler was one of nearly 30 representatives of member states who spoke in the Security Council yesterday in favor of Annan's efforts to improve UN peacekeeping efforts. Most of them also supported the idea that any peace agreement signed between warring sides should include provisions for disarming and demobilizing fighters and reintegrating them into civilian life.

Speaker after speaker said that it was up to sides involved in conflicts to make a commitment to peace. But once that decision was made, speakers said it was crucial that UN-led groups be on hand to facilitate the most difficult stage -- disarmament.

The South African ambassador to the UN, Dumisana Kumalo, stressed the importance of an early UN presence on the scene of post-conflict zones.

"It is therefore more imperative now than ever to consider the early integration of the DDR into UN peacekeeping mandates when applicable. The lack of timely and decisive DDR programs in the UN peacekeeping operations is bound to impact negatively on the UN's ability to really end the recurrence of conflict. We have seen throughout the world that such delays and lack of resolute action on DDR perpetuates polarization, making conflict resolution and management more difficult."

The DDR process starts with the collection of small arms and light and heavy weapons within a conflict zone. They are usually stored in a safe location and sometimes destroyed. Demining may also be part of the process.

The operation continues with the disbanding of military structures and the return of combatants to civilian life. Former combatants are usually registered and given some assistance to meet their basic needs. Then reintegration begins, in which ex-combatants and their families try to adapt, economically and socially, to a productive civilian life.

At this stage in particular, UN representatives spoke of the need for the engagement of financial institutions to help provide training and income-generating projects. The reintegration process also envisages economic development at the community and national level, infrastructure rehabilitation as well as truth and reconciliation efforts.

As noted by Portugal's ambassador to the UN, Antonio Monteiro, it is a lengthy process requiring long-term international commitment. Monteiro spoke to the Council yesterday on behalf of EU countries and EU candidate countries from eastern and Central Europe.

"The ultimate success of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process may require sustained efforts long after the withdrawal of the multi-disciplinary peacekeeping operations."

At the end of yesterday's session, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement supporting the DDR process. The statement cited the importance of a commitment by warring sides to a political solution before UN peacekeepers can play a role.