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Annan: UN Peacekeeping Operations in Africa Hindered by Lack of Available Troops - 2003-12-19

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says peacekeeping missions in Africa are being threatened by a lack of available troops. Mr. Annan voiced concern that Africa may come out on the short end of an increasingly tough competition for peacekeepers.

The secretary-general said the growing number of peacekeeping operations seems to be outstretching the capacity of countries willing and able to help. He said appeals by the U.S.-led coalition are making his life more difficult.

"We are all competing for troops," he said. "Competing for troops in that the coalition needs troops for Iraq, and in fact the search for troops will continue, particularly after the occupation ends and becomes an international effort. They will be going to the same countries I am going to to seek peacekeeping operations for Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Congo, perhaps for Sudan and Burundi."

Mr. Annan pointed to Liberia as a case where an undermanned peacekeeping force has been overwhelmed by a greater-than-expected response to a U.N. demobilization program.

"Let me say, we had a slight setback in Liberia," he said. "We started a demobilization program and many many more turned out than I think our people on ground had anticipated. They were expecting 15,000 troops, they have half that now.

Mr. Annan said he was encouraged that so many young Liberians had rushed to turn in weapons, which shows they are tired of war. He expressed hope that a fresh infusion of peacekeeping troops promised for the next few months from Bangladesh, Namibia, Pakistan, Sweden and Ukraine might reverse the early setback.

At the same time, however, he issued a report Thursday warning of persistent political and security problems in Liberia. Noting the severity of the crisis, the report says a special donors conference on Liberia will be held next February in New York.