US plans to train 50 000 peackeepers

World leaders, looking for quicker, more effective responses to wars in Africa and other crises, are expected to offer training and equipment for more than 50 000 peacekeepers over the next five years, United States officials said.

The plan, expected to be approved at a summit this week of the powerful Group of Eight industrialised nations, will focus initially—but not exclusively—on strengthening African peacekeeping operations, US officials said.

They said President George Bush’s administration is negotiating with congress for $660-million in funding over the next five years for the plan. Other G-8 nations also are expected to contribute.

France and Britain already train peacekeepers. Italy, another G-8 member, is co-sponsoring the US peacekeeping proposal and has offered use of a centre for training heavily equipped police, US officials said.

The United States hopes to enable peacekeepers to respond more quickly to crises, “so that there is less time between when the signal flare first goes up from a particular part of the world and when the boots first hit the ground,” said state department official Glyn Davies on Tuesday.

Experts predict an increasing need for peacekeepers in Africa, said Davies, a career diplomat who has helped lead US preparations for the three-day G-8 summit on Sea Island, Georgia, that started on Tuesday.

Davies said the number of peacekeepers engaged in United Nations missions has grown from 12 000 in 1999 to about 50 000 today.
But he said operations are sometimes not organised as efficiently as the United States would like.

“We do a better job today I would say of peacekeeping and getting together the resources to do it than we did, say, ten years ago,” he said. “But it is not as good as it should be and part of the problem is that you just don’t have in Africa and elsewhere enough trained peacekeepers.”

He added: “We think that there is simply too much ad hockery when it comes to lining up the forces with the need.”

The 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which more than 500 000 people were killed in 100 days of massacres, “was an object lesson in how the world could have done a better job,” Davies said.

As the killings raged, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to reduce the UN force in Rwanda to a token 270 troops. Three weeks later, the Security Council passed another resolution to send some 5 500 troops, but they didn’t begin arriving until after the genocide had ended.

Davies said the G-8 did not intend to supplant the United Nations. But he said peacekeepers need to react speedily in the early stages of crises—and “very often that is before the United Nations has actually come together and issued a mandate.” - Sapa-AP

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