Friday, 14 October 2011

UN to reduce Haiti mission, peacekeepers at record high

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations aims to cut back its peacekeeping force in Haiti this year as the number of blue-helmet troops around the world hits a record of more than 120,000, officials said on Thursday.

The new head of UN peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, said the cutback was not linked to the sexual assault and cholera scandals that have hit the Haiti mission, known as MINUSTAH, this year.

The UN Security Council is to approve an extension of the MINUSTAH mandate on Friday.

The United Nations sent a "surge" of about 3,000 specialist engineering troops to Haiti after the January, 2010 earthquake which killed more than 200,000 people.

"We believe that it should be possible to reduce, to come back to the levels of MINUSTAH before the earthquake," Ladsous told a press conference.

At the end of August there were about 8,700 troops from 18 countries in the mission, 3,500 police and 500 civilian personnel. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has recommended reducing this by about 2,750 over the next 12 months.

The UN force in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, has been tainted by scandal.

This year a group of Uruguayan troops were accused of raping a Haitian youth. Five Uruguayan troops have been jailed by a military court for disobeying orders and dereliction of duty.

"You cannot link that terrible incident with the overall perspective of the mission in Haiti," Ladsous said when questioned about the rape.

But MINUSTAH was already facing criticism for the UN peacekeepers from Nepal who, according to a study published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, brought a strain of cholera to Haiti responsible for an epidemic that has killed 5,500 people.

"In general I think there is a desire from the government of Haiti to retain MINUSTAH," Ladsous said, quoting one survey which said 60 percent of the population wants to keep the mission.

Ladsous said there were now more than 120,000 peacekeepers around the world, including about 98,000 uniformed troops. "We are at about the highest level ever," the Frenchman added.

"It is true that we have to cut back where we can," he said. "Of course we are going to reduce numbers where we can, and of course costs."

UN peacekeeping has an annual budget of about $8 billion and the Haiti mission alone will cost about $800 million in the current financial year.

Ladsous stressed that there would be no concessions on the security of serving troops. Two Rwandan troops and a Senegalese policeman were killed when their patrol in the Darfur region of Sudan was ambushed this week.

He said his first official tour would be to Sudan and South Sudan in two weeks time.

While the UN mission in Sudan has been closed since the July 9 division of the country, a new mission has been created in South Sudan and a force of up to 4,200 peacekeepers is starting to be deployed in the disputed Sudanese territory of Abyei.

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