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Press conference by new Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations

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The new head of United Nations peacekeeping said this afternoon that partnership — between the Security Council, troop-contributing countries, host Governments and other stakeholders — would be his guiding principle in meeting the complex challenges of peace and security in the twenty-first century.

“I have no preordained plan,” Herve Ladsous, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told correspondents at Headquarters in his first press conference since taking up his duties 10 days ago. “I want to learn, speak to Governments, peacekeepers — all those who have a stake in all this to see how we can proceed,” he said. He pledged he would listen carefully to representatives of all stakeholders, including regional organizations and all parts of the United Nations system, “to reach in partnership the right decisions”.

Saying he was deeply honoured by his appointment, and paying tribute to the courage of peacekeepers, particularly those who had perished in the line of duty, Mr. Ladsous noted significant recent achievements of United Nations peacekeeping, including support for the election results in Côte d’Ivoire and the birth of South Sudan. His first trip to the field, he announced, would be to Sudan and South Sudan, after which he would visit Addis Ababa, in order to underline that cooperation with the African Union would be one of his priorities.

New challenges, he said, included the fact that peacekeepers were increasingly operating in very hostile environments and dealing with non-State actors. In such situations, he commented, it was important to never lose sight of mandates but to be as effective as possible in achieving results. For that purpose, staff protection was a priority, he added, regretting the loss of three colleagues some days ago in Darfur.

He said that up-to-date equipment, including hard-to-obtain helicopters, were critical for that purpose and for carrying out increasingly complex mandates. Peacekeepers must also be trained for skills and knowledge to meet such challenges. Acknowledging that there were serious financial constraints at the moment, he said that in discussing effectiveness, savings and the best value for money must also be taken into account, in a spirit of partnership with all concerned.

He said that in order to reinforce peacekeeping to better face the wide range of activities now expected, including protection of civilians, security sector reform, judicial reform and protecting human rights, it was important to build on the analysis that had been performed since 2000, from the Brahimi Report to the New Horizons recommendations.

Noting that now a third of all Special Representatives of the Secretary-General were women, he pledged to work with UN Women to pursue that agenda further.

Asked about priorities in the border areas between Sudan and South Sudan, he spoke of remaining violence, safety of peacekeepers, functioning of missions and difficulties with visas and travel clearances. In the disputed area of Abyei the priority was to prevent new flares of violence as the migration season began for herders. Obstacles there included impassable roads due to the rainy season.

The United Nations, he said, also intended to work with the Government of South Sudan to help build its institutions. Consultations were being held on a new mission in that country. Another concern was helping the two Governments proceed with a bilateral relationship; last Sunday’s meeting between the two presidents augured well for that. It was important to support the work of the high-level panel on outstanding issues from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

In answer to questions, he said he welcomed the possible deployment of a Japanese engineering contingent in South Sudan, even if there were Japanese constraints on their peacekeeping contributions. He said he had discussed the possibility with Japanese representatives and a team was now travelling there to determine how the operation could be adapted.

Asked if United Nations peacekeeping was reaching its limits, he said that, with more than 120,000 personnel in 16 missions, it was at about its highest point ever, with the Interim Security Force in Abyei adding even more to the total. Saturation, however, depended on mandates and support provided to them by Member States. Economies must be found where possible, in any case. In Haiti, for example, drawing down the Stabilization Mission known as MINUSTAH to pre-earthquake levels was being considered. He would not, however, compromise on expenditures linked to staff security.

In regard to MINUSTAH’s drawdown, he explained that there was no link with the “absolutely dreadful” allegations of sexual exploitation. Those were being followed up by criminal procedures in light of the zero-tolerance policy for such conduct, which he would strive to reinforce. The Government, along with 60 per cent of the population of Haiti, had expressed their desire to retain the mission, which they deemed necessary for security, since only around 4,000 national policemen were operational.

He affirmed that support for security sector reform had grown in importance in peacekeeping and that “national ownership” was crucial to foster security sectors that were effective, not corrupt, and that were mindful of the rule of law. A small group of specialists in DPKO was very busy and very much in demand.

He said there had been no request for any military peacekeeping operation by the interim authorities in Libya; right now there was a compact mission there to help with the establishment or reform of institutions, authorized for three months under the Department of Political Affairs, with peacekeeping support. To a question about Israel and Lebanon, he said he intended to visit the Middle East before long.

Finally, in response to questions about statements he had made while working under the French Government on various issues, he said he was proud to have had such duties, but now his duty was to the United Nations and his loyalty was to the Secretary-General and the governing bodies of the Organization.

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