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UN Marks 60 Years of International Peacekeeping Operations


A wreath was layed at U.N. headquarters Thursday to mark the 60th anniversary of its peacekeeping operations. The world body has more than 100,000 troops from more than 120 countries working to keep the peace in 20 conflict zones. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

U.N. peacekeeping operations began in 1948 with the deployment of unarmed U.N. military observers in the Middle East to monitor the truce between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Since that first mission, peacekeepers wearing the distinctive blue helmet of the United Nations have conducted 63 other missions.

In 1988, U.N. peacekeepers won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the U.N. chief of peacekeeping operations, says today his department is at its highest-ever levels of deployment.

"With 20 missions, 130,000 personnel authorized; 110,000 already deployed. That's enormous," he said.

The importance of U.N. peacekeeping can be seen in its budget, which has risen to more than $6.5 billion this year for missions in countries such as Sudan, Chad, Georgia, Haiti and Lebanon.

More than 40 percent of all peacekeepers come from Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria and Nepal, while Japan and the United States are the largest financial contributors.

But peacekeeping is dangerous work. Ninety peacekeepers lost their lives last year and more than 2,400 during the last six decades. On Wednesday, one more peacekeeper's name was added to that list, when a Ugandan peacekeeper was killed in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The U.N.'s peacekeeping department has also encountered other problems, notably, misconduct on the part of a small number of peacekeepers that has hurt their reputation.

This week, British charity Save the Children issued a report saying some peacekeepers and international aid workers have sexually abused young children in world trouble spots. Guéhenno says this is one of the challenges of peacekeeping.

"That kind of report is never happy reading," he said. "But it's a very useful report, because it puts the light on one of the challenges we have when you rotate 200,000 people every year. How do you make sure you have the full picture? How do make sure misconduct is not under-reported? How do you make sure when there is misconduct it is effectively followed up?"

Guéhenno says his department is working vigilantly to improve mechanisms for reporting instances of misconduct and to educate peacekeepers, but concedes more needs to be done.

As the United Nations marks the 60th anniversary of its role as international peacekeeper, the 15-member Security Council is about to go to Africa, where it will visit peacekeeping missions it has authorized in Chad, Sudan's Darfur region, the Congo and the Ivory Coast.