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US Official says Demand for UN Peacekeepers in Africa Likely to Increase - 2004-10-08

A U.S. official says Africa is likely to place more demands on United Nations peacekeeping resources, which are crucial to stopping violence in places like Sudan's Darfur region, and elsewhere in the continent. A congressional hearing Friday examined the status of these efforts, the role of regional organizations, as well as private companies in assisting peacekeeping.

James Swigert, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Department of International Organization Affairs, says there has been an explosion of peacekeeping operations in Africa over the past year.

These include new efforts in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Burundi, as well as a recent U.N. Security Council expansion of operations in Congo from about 10,000 troops to 16,000.

All told, Africa now hosts seven of 16 U.N. peacekeeping operations around the world, including two of the largest, a total of 37,000 personnel authorized by the Security Council.

Mr. Swigert told the House Africa Subcommittee he does not see demand in Africa for U.N. involvement decreasing anytime soon, despite recent downsizing of some operations:

"Increased demand for U.N. peacekeepers in Africa we judge is likely, even as some missions like UNAMSIL [U.N. Mission In Siera Leone] in Sierra Leone are drawing down," he said. "As you know, planning has begun for a new mission in Sudan contingent on a North-South peace agreement and the U.N. is actively supporting the planning for the expansion of the African Union monitoring mission in Darfur."

Some lawmakers want the United States to increase support not only for U.N. peacekeeping in Africa, but for regional organizations.

"I certainly support the concept of African solutions to African problems," said Democratic Party Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey. "However, I feel the U.S. has responsibility to assist in building capacity of the regional structure as well as to help their ill-equipped organizations in terms of resources, material and personnel."

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California) would like to see more support from the United States in places like Darfur, northern Uganda and Ivory Coast. But she also touched on an issue about which there is some disagreement, the role of private companies providing logistical support to cash-strained U.N. peacekeeping efforts:

"Who do private companies answer to? How do private companies handle sensitive African issues like child soldiers, or the protection of internally displace people? How do these private companies work with the African governments they are hired to protect? How does our own government, how do we ensure compliance with international standards of human rights? So I don't believe we should outsource the important responsibility of defending democracy and securing the peace in Africa," she said.

Republican Congressman Ed Royce, chairman of the Africa subcommittee, disagrees. "Private military corporations are increasingly involved in peacekeeping all over Africa, in terms of providing logistics. It would be an interesting change in policy if we were to pull all of those units out," he said.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Swigert cautions against expecting more from U.N. peacekeeping than it can accomplish, especially in danger zones. He says this is where the African Union and other regional groupings such as the Economic Community Of West African States, ECOWAS, play an important role.

"The high end of the spectrum of peace operations includes the most challenging tasks and for the forces engaged, peace enforcement can prove much the same as warfare," he said. "Such tasks, we feel, are not well suited for the U.N. Rather coalitions of willing and able forces with a militarily strong state in the lead are better instruments."

As for Sudan, Mr. Swigert says detailed discussions are underway with the African Union to make sure that forces can be in place and monitoring can be expanded as quickly as possible.