19 May 2007 04:17

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  • Title: [SW News] (AP) U.N. To Pay Volunteer Peacekeepers
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  • Date :[Wednesday, May 10, 2000]

U.N. To Pay Volunteer Peacekeepers


UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Peacekeepers from around the world put themselves at risk in faraway countries every day. But not for free. The United Nations promises $1,000 per person, per month to countries that volunteer troops for peace missions.

That money can be helpful for poorer nations, such as Zambia and Guinea. But the flat rate won't cover the costs for better-trained western forces, who seem unwilling to lose money on high-risk missions in areas where they have little at stake.

U.N. officials say they take what they can get. But that leaves some wondering if the United Nations is getting what it pays for.

In Sierra Leone, 500 U.N. personnel have been taken hostage by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front. At least one peacekeeper is believed to be dead, and 12 others have been injured. Many peacekeepers have been stripped of their weapons, and some have engaged in fighting. Monday in the capital, Freetown, troops found themselves caught between angry residents and rebels who opened fire on the demonstrators.

``In Sierra Leone, the mission is largely made up of Africans, and while it's no reflection on the troops themselves, a number of these units will not have trained specifically for peacekeeping duties and many of them are poorly equipped,'' said David Malone, Canada's former deputy ambassador to the United Nations.

Most Western powers have been willing to pay their own way when peace and stability is in their direct interest, as it was for Australia in East Timor or European nations in Kosovo. But for others, the money can be critical.

``For developing countries, the financial issues are very important,'' Malone said. ``Some countries wind up doing relatively well out of peacekeeping because the flat rate more than covers their costs. But for other countries, it's always a money-losing proposition. Canada is one of those.''

Then there is the possibility that peacekeepers may not see the money at all. Jordan, which has participated in countless peacekeeping missions on several continents, is owed millions of dollars, according to its deputy U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Hussein. Still, that has not stopped the country from volunteering.

No big-name Western peacekeeping countries sent troops to Sierra Leone, where the mission is charged with maintaining a crumbling peace deal that ended eight years of brutal civil war.

Malone said contributors such as Canada and Norway, which often volunteer for such missions, are either spread thin elsewhere or unwilling to take another chance on Africa after the 1993 debacle in Somalia, when 18 Americans were killed in a botched U.S. raid.

``The U.S. policy has been to support Africans in resolving conflicts on their own continent,'' said Tim Bork, director of the African Policy Initiative for the Carnegie Endowment. ``I don't think there would be support for U.S. troops swooping in there.''

In Sierra Leone, the United Nations had to rely on those nations that offered troops and whatever experience the forces brought from home. The U.N. peacekeeping department does not provide any formal training to peacekeepers and expects troops to arrive with their own equipment.

But U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said some showed up in Sierra Leone without supplies, and the United Nations had to scramble to get equipment from storage facilities in Italy to the troops in the field.

He also said an erroneous U.N. report on rebel troop movements in Sierra Leone was caused by poor communications equipment being used by the Guineans and Jordanians.

``We're doing peacekeeping these days on a shoestring,'' Eckhard said, adding that years of budget cutbacks and late payments by member states have prevented the United Nations from doing ``the kind of professional job we would like to do.''

Still, the United Nations continues to authorize peacekeeping missions.

Sierra Leone's information minister, Julius Spencer, expressed his own doubts Monday over the mission's ability to deal with the turmoil in his country.

``We are beginning to question whether troops from certain countries have the resolve and are willing to dirty their hands,'' he said. ``We find it difficult to understand how such a large number of people can be disarmed and abducted.''

African nations, including Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Guinea and Zambia, make up the bulk of the authorized 11,100-member Sierra Leone mission. The three non-regional contributors are Jordan, India and Bangladesh.

Jeffrey Laurenti, executive director of policy studies at the United Nations Association of the USA, said the United Nations knows that recruiting from the poorest countries means tapping armies that have few resources invested.

U.N. officials say they are constantly shopping around for troops and try for the greatest mix of expertise in planning operations.

But the United Nations ``is often not able to get what it needs and is reduced to accepting what is on offer,'' said Malone, who now heads the International Peace Academy. ``Experience shows that where big powers deploy, you get more power.''

 

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