UN forces toughen up
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Some of those resources are already in place. Thanks to the Brahimi report, the UN logistics base in Brindisi, in southern Italy, has been stocked with a "strategic equipment reserve," with enough weaponry and equipment to deploy within 30 days for smaller missions, 90 days for larger. In the past, missions required at least six months to roar into action. This change derived from analysis that even a robust international force of 500 to 1,000 well-trained, well-equipped troops would have been enough to deter the Rwandan Hutus and prevent the 1994 genocide of Tutsis.Skip to next paragraph
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The DPKO seems to be responding. After rebels in Sierra Leone killed several UN peacekeepers in 2000 and took hundreds hostage, the UN endorsed a contingent of British special forces to free the hostages.
In eastern Congo, the UN had long been criticized for failing to curb Lendu attacks on Hema civilians. So when nine Bangladeshi peacekeepers were ambushed and killed three months ago, the UN responded ferociously. Peacekeepers in armored personnel carriers and attack helicopters pounded a Lendu camp, reportedly killing 60.
"We've learned you have to have robust capacity and cannot allow bad things to take place in front of you without doing something about it," says retired US Gen. William Nash, who led US forces into Bosnia, then the UN mission in Kosovo. "None of this is about perfection. There's no peacekeeping operation that isn't messy and difficult. But it's a quest to uphold the highest standards of the international community."
Today, peacekeepers in Congo conduct "cordon and search" operations in remote villages, sweeping for weapons. They've reportedly persuaded most of the roughly 15,000 militiamen to disarm. But the last holdouts appear to be fierce: Another Bangladeshi peacekeeper was killed May 12, a Nepalese peacekeeper was killed June 2 when a UN plane he was protecting came under fire during takeoff, and an Indian soldier was killed Tuesday in a firefight with rebels in eastern Congo.
This new robust model may bring repercussions, including the prospect of open battles with armed groups, greater threat to nonmilitary UN personnel, and the possibility of reprisals against the very civilians peacekeepers aim to protect.
"It requires a willingness to put peacekeepers' lives on the line," says Victoria Holt, codirector of the Henry L. Stimson Center's Future of Peace Operations project, a think tank in Washington. "And to risk backlash that the UN may be identified with one side or another, even if the UN itself has tried to remain impartial but is taking a side to uphold a peace agreement."
The UN maintains its impartiality toward signatories of peace agreements, says UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno, "but we are definitely partial toward implementation of that agreement. We're not neutral when the agreement is under attack." Mr. Guehenno says he understands the concerns that the perception that peacekeepers are taking sides could lead to the targeting of other UN personnel, including aid workers, "But there is a certain balance that can be established."
Wednesday's report will be presented to the House Appropriations Committee next week.