Recruiting Peacekeepers for High-Stakes Missions

WANTED: world peacekeepers, willing to take risks.

The search is on at the United Nations to find more member nations ready and willing to lend troops. The demand for UN military help is growing at a time when risks are rising. Some posted needs include:

* Somalia. The UN wants to add another 10,000 troops to bring its strength there to 28,000 by late July.

* Bosnia-Herzegovina. In a June 14 report, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said at least 7,500 more troops are needed in Bosnia to protect six Muslim "safe havens." He concedes that 34,000 troops could do the job better. The lower figure, combined with the threat of airstrikes provided by NATO, is a "realistic" estimate for a beginning, he says.

* Cyprus. The UN now operates 13 peacekeeping missions, and needs replacements in some long-standing operations. Canada, involved in the Cyprus effort since the start in 1964, plans soon to withdraw 500 troops.

"We are still trying to find governments to replace them, but we haven't settled on anyone yet," says Kofi Annan, UN undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations. In an interview with the Monitor and the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Annan, who admits he has spent a number of seven-day weeks in his office recently, says UN officials have been concerned that recent clashes in Somalia might convince some nations that had offered troops to hold back or "drag their feet."

Annan says he thinks the unprovoked murders of 23 Pakistani peacekeepers in Somalia on June 5, the retaliatory United States-led airstrikes on arms depots held by Gen. Mohamed Farah Aideed, and the subsequent "tragic" shooting of civilians by UN peacekeepers in what the UN terms self-defense send a mixed message to potential troop contributors.

One message is that the world community "must and will" protect UN troops, he says. But nations might also be getting another message - that peacekeeping is no longer "relatively risk-free."

Troops must be well-trained and equipped for what could become a combat situation, he says. Some diplomats say nations such as Germany and Japan, have constitutional limits on their military involvement, and may withhold troops for that reason. In his report on the safe-haven plan for Bosnia, Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali specifically urged nations not sending troops to contribute equipment and air-transport services.

Annan says he hopes that people such as General Aideed of Somalia who agree to cease-fires and arms accords and later break them will now realize that the UN is serious about meeting its peacekeeping goals.

US forces in Somalia, Annan says, did not approach that task "as aggressively" as the UN had hoped. But by authorizing the UN to investigate, arrest, try, and punish those responsible for the deaths of the Pakistani peacekeepers, he says, the Security Council has sent the criminals a clear message that "we will come after you wherever you are. You can't hide."

Getting new peacekeeping contributions will take work, Annan admits. "We have to do more recruiting." Several nations have been asked to send troops to protect the six safe havens in Bosnia. In one reponse, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said his country would contribute to the safe-havens force, but only if troops were given a "clear framework and mandate."

As the demand for more UN peacekeepers grows, so does pressure on the UN from member states to be more selective. The Cyprus peacekeeping operation is often cited. Though the fighting has stopped, the secretary-general has yet to broker a political settlement.

Member states often are hesitant to provide troops for lengthy operations. The UN faces growing pressure, Annan says, to take on only operations in which the goal is clear. The idea is to "achieve and pull out."

"People say that peacekeeping is a growing business," he says. "We'd like to see it go the other way.... I'll be very happy if we can resolve some of these issues and go home." If the Arab-Israeli peace talks were to succeed, for instance, "we could close several missions in one go," he says.

"I think we as peacekeepers have to be patient and persistent.... It's not always possible to know when you are going to get a break ... when people who have been fighting suddenly decide they have had enough."

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