The United Nations Security Council has marked a rare occasion in recent years -- the successful culmination of a UN peacekeeping mission. The council on Friday hailed the political will of the former adversaries in Tajikistan, as well as the support of neighboring states, in placing the country on the path to democracy. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 15 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council has welcomed the closing of the UN mission in Tajikistan, praising the political will of Tajik leaders and the support of countries such as Russia and Iran in securing the end of civil war.
Security Council members on 12 May were able to signal a rare success in UN peacekeeping at a time of growing threat to the 9,000-member UN peacekeeping contingent in Sierra Leone. In Tajikistan, by contrast, the United Nations had placed 120 staff to oversee the ceasefire and help carry out the peace agreement between the government and the United Tajik Opposition.
It was a mission challenged by outbreaks of violence -- four international peacekeepers were killed in the mission's six years -- and deep mutual suspicions. But both sides eventually followed through with elections this year -- the first multiparty elections for a two-chamber parliament in the country's history.
International observers were critical of the way the elections were conducted but said they did provide for political plurality. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the elections signaled the UN mission in Tajikistan had completed its work that began with the brokering of a ceasefire. The mission will formally end on May 15.
The head of the UN mission, Bulgarian diplomat Ivo Petrov, told the council on 12 May that the political will of the two parties to the peace agreement bodes well for national reconciliation.
"Both sides' goodwill and commitment to the achievement of peace and national accord in Tajikistan are an important guarantee for the viable peace in the country in the future."
But Petrov said Tajikistan faces major challenges as it moves to build a democracy. It shares an unstable border with Afghanistan, which continues to be devastated by its own civil war, and through which drug trafficking has become a severe problem. Petrov also noted Tajikistan's deep economic problems, saying a recent survey by the World Bank and United Nations found that 80 percent of the population suffers from extreme poverty.
It is a country, he says, dependent on international assistance due to recent poor harvests, and the collapse of social safety, public health and educational systems in the past decade. He stressed the importance of the continued engagement of the international community and an increased commitment to economic development in Tajikistan.
Annan has indicated he will propose a UN office in Tajikistan dedicated to post-conflict stabilization. In a statement adopted at the end of the 12 May session, the Security Council endorsed such an office. It urged continued cooperation with the OSCE and other international agencies still active in Tajikistan.
Tajikistan's ambassador to the United Nations, Rashid Alimov, also supported a post-conflict office of the United Nations. In the longest speech of the day, he expressed special gratitude to the United Nations, Russia, and the two sides in the Tajik conflict for helping the country through what he called a "gloomy chapter" in its history.
Alimov recalled the human toll in the Tajik civil war, saying 50,000 Tajiks died, 680,000 were internally displaced, and more than 200,000 became refugees in Afghanistan and CIS countries. He credited the opposing sides with building trust despite the conflict.
"A philosophy of peace endured and won out over a philosophy of enmity and destruction."
Russia's ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, also praised the role of the United Nations and Tajik leaders, saying they had contributed greatly to stabilizing a difficult region. Russia has strongly supported the government of President Imomali Rakhmonov, contributing border troops on the Afghan-Tajik frontier and other forces. Russia sees Tajikistan as a bulwark against Islamic extremists and Lavrov on Friday again stressed Russia's readiness to fight against extremism in the region.
"Russia supports all Tajik government efforts to improve the situation in Tajikistan and in the Central Asian region as a whole. We are ready along with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and all our partners of the CIS to counter the threats of international terrorism and extremism."
Russia and Iran have been credited by UN officials with helping to broker and support the Tajik peace agreement. And like Russia, Iran is concerned about regional destabilization caused by the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan between the ruling Taliban and a coalition of forces in the north of the country.
Iran's ambassador to the UN, Hadi Nejad Hosseinian, expressed his country's concern in the 12 May Security Council session.
"The impact of the Afghan crisis, as an external factor, on the still-fragile situation in Tajikistan continues to be a major cause for concern. Afghanistan is an ongoing destabilizing factor, affecting adversely the peace and security throughout the region.
The United Nations earlier this year sent a senior representative of the Secretary-General, Francesc Vendrell, to try to spur peace talks in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Security Council continues to press sanctions against some Taliban financial holdings and flights of its major air carrier because of the Taliban's refusal to extradite suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.