Burundi’s Peacekeeping Experience Could Prove Deadly if Army Splits

Burundi chief of armed forces Gen. Prime Niyongabo visiting AMISON troops earlier this year. Photo: AMISOM

Burundi chief of armed forces Gen. Prime Niyongabo visiting AMISON troops earlier this year. Photo: AMISOM

May 14, 2015 – A former force commander with the African Union Mission in Somalia is fighting to prevent troops under his control from abandoning their posts and taking sides with Burundian coup leader Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare.

The chief of staff for Burundi’s armed forces, Gen. Prime Niyongabo, told the BBC on Thursday that the number of soldiers backing the coup had fallen and those that had joined have been given a chance to rejoin the regular army.

Niyongabo was force commander of AMISOM from 2009 – 2010. The UN-backed mission comprises some 21,000 troops with more than 5,000 of those from Burundi.

Burundi also contributes more than 1,200 troops to UN peacekeeping missions with the bulk of its contingent serving with MINUSCA in the Central African Republic.

Burundi was one of 25 African countries selected by the US state department to take part in its ACOTA program which trained more than 250,000 troops for participation in peacekeeping operations.

UN DPKO data on Burundi's troop contributions link

UN DPKO data on Burundi’s troop contributions link


There have been no reports of any former peacekeepers among those siding with coup leader Niyombare but it would not be the first time that former UN troops were involved in a coup.

Former battalion commanders with the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon were all central to the military’s involvement in three successive coups in Fiji in 1987, 2000 and 2006.

Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council says that as a result of its involvement in UN peacekeeping, Burundian troops are far better armed and trained than at any time in the country’s history, and have gained real battle experience. He is warning that if the military splits a conflict could be far worse than any of the country’s previous conflicts.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the UN Security Council condemned the “unrest” in Burundi and those who seek to seize power through “unlawful means.” The council’s statement did not use the word coup.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

 

UN Reports Continuing Interactions Between IDF and Armed Groups in Golan

Israeli Forces in the Golan Heights (Feb. 2015) photo: Creative Commons/IDF

Israeli Forces in the Golan Heights (Feb. 2015) photo: Creative Commons/IDF

March 26, 2015 – UN peacekeepers continue to observe interactions between armed groups in the Golan Heights and members of the Israeli Defence Forces.

The information was in the latest report to the Security Council from Ban Ki-moon on the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force monitoring the 1974 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Syria.

“UNDOF observed one occasion in November [2014] and several in January and February when armed individuals crossed the ceasefire line, approached the technical fence [that runs along the length of the Israeli side of the buffer zone] and at times interacted with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations observation posts 51 and 54 [see map,]” Ban wrote in the report released this week.

The Al Nusra Front and allied groups control most of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights but are engaged in an ongoing battle with Iran-backed Hezbollah for control of the strategic plateau.

Ban’s report also said that trucks, some mounted with anti-aircraft guns, crossed over to the Israeli side and that packages were loaded onto a number of trucks before returning to the Syrian side. The report added that injured individuals were also transported to the Israeli side.

“In some instances, wounded individuals were handed over from the Bravo [Syrian] side to the Alpha [Israeli] side. During the evening of 20 January, in the area north of observation post 54, UNDOF observed two trucks crossing from the Bravo side to the Alpha side, where they were received by IDF personnel. The trucks were loaded with sacks before returning to the Bravo side,” Ban wrote.

“On at least four occasions in February, United Nations personnel at observation post 54 saw vehicles, including small trucks, crossing the ceasefire line from the Bravo side and approaching the technical fence,” the UN chief added. “On one such occasion, several vehicles, including some with anti-aircraft guns mounted on the back, were seen parked next to the technical fence.”

The UNDOF force has seen its size and scope reduced in recent months due to the deteriorating security situation and most of the troops are located on the Israeli side while also manning some key observation posts including on Mount Hermon.

Late last year, Ban recommended reducing the force from its mandated strength of about 900 personnel to less than 750 because of limited capacity and the reluctance of countries to offer troops for the mission. In the past year or so, Austria, the Philippines, Japan and Croatia have all withdrawn their contingents. Currently, troops from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal and the Netherlands make up the force.

Recently, a spokesperson for the Czech president’s office said the country has offered troops to replace those departing.

“By sending Czech soldiers to the mission in the Golan Heights and possibly also to the mission in Lebanon, the president (Zeman) wants to not only confront the threat of Islamism, but also reinforce the defense of Israel,” Hynek Kmoníček, head of the foreign affairs section of the Presidential Office, told the daily Mladá fronta Dnes.

However, the spokesperson was corrected by the Czech military’s chief-of staff who said UNDOF’s mission “is not to defend Israel against possible attacks by Islamic militants, given the mission’s mandate and the capabilities of the Israeli forces.”

The report from Ban also said that UN vehicles stolen by Al Nusra are being used by the group and some have been outfitted with anti-aircraft guns.

The full report is below.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Report on UNDOF

The Report on Sexual Abuse by UN Troops and Staff That Ban Ki-moon Quashed Now Made Public

Special Event:  United Nations Official Commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Ban Ki-moon speaks at event commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in Nov. 2014 (UN Photo)


March 17, 2015 – When Ban Ki-moon sent his report on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse” in UN missions to the Security Council on March 13, he wrote that “the total number of allegations received (51) is the lowest recorded since special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse were first put in place.”

As part of the UN’s efforts to eliminate sexual exploitation and abuse in UN missions, Ban wrote that “an independent team of experts was appointed to assess how four peacekeeping missions were addressing the challenge.” The independent experts submitted their report to Ban in Nov. 2013 but the UN chief has never made it public.

Contrary to Ban’s statement that allegations are at an all-time low, the independent experts report that, “The UN does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA.”

The independent report was highly critical of how the UN secretariat and troop contributing countries (TCCs) handle SEA allegations against United Nations peacekeepers and civilian staff. It says that the United Nations does not know how serious the problem is; there is extreme caution with regard to the rights of the accused but far less for the accuser; that victims are often paid off for their silence; that a number of allegations that are later classified as “unsubstantiated” by the UN are in fact never fully investigated because the UN lacks the expertise and the will to fully investigate; and that the UN pass the buck to troop contributing countries to investigate even though most allegations are against UN civilian staff.

But Ban’s attempt to quash the report have been undercut by the Aids-Free World NGO who were sent a copy of the independent report by a UN staffer who rightly feared that it would be shelved because of the poor reflection it casts on UN headquarters, TCC’s, and civilian personnel working for UN missions.

A copy of the independent experts report has been sent to UN Tribune along with a public letter from Aids-Free World who declare that the report from the independent experts “should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

The experts were tasked to investigate sexual exploitation and abuse allegations at UN missions in the DRC, Haiti, South Sudan and Liberia.

The full report is below.

- Denis Fitzgerald 
On Twitter @denisfitz

2013 Expert Team Report

UN Mali Mission Fast Becoming Deadliest Ever for Peacekeepers

MINUSMA troops carry casket of fallen Nigerian peacekeepers killed in Oct. 2014 ambush (UN Photo).

MINUSMA troops carry caskets of fallen Nigerian peacekeepers killed in Oct. 2014 ambush (UN Photo).

March 10, 2015 – The two-year old UN peacekeeping mission in Mail suffered its thirty-sixth fatality through a malicious act over the weekend when a United Nations base was hit by rocket fire on Sunday in an attack that injured another 11 blue helmets along with three civilians.

The killed peacekeeper was the eighteenth from Chad to lose his life serving with MINUSMA, the 12,000-strong mission that was established in April 2013. In addition to the 36 peacekeepers killed in action, another ten have lost their lives through accidents or illness serving in Mali.

Of the 16 current UN peacekeeping missions, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon has suffered the most fatalities since its establishment in 1978 with a total of 308 blue helmets losing their lives since then, with 93 of those killed in action (another 130 more were killed in accidents, according to UN data).

But only one UNIFIL peacekeeper has been killed in action in the past seven years – that was in late January when a Spanish soldier was hit by Israeli artillery fire.

At the current rate of two peacekeeping fatalities per month from attacks on the force, MINUSMA is on track to become the most dangerous mission ever for UN peacekeepers.

Among the other current dangerous missions for blue helmets are Darfur, where 69 troops have been killed in action since 2008, and DRC, where 43 blue helmets have been killed since 2001 in what the UN terms malicious acts.

Congo was the site of the first UN peacekeeping mission with significant military force when ONUC was established in 1960. The mission was in place for five years and the 135 peacekeepers killed in action over that span is the most ever for a blue-helmeted force.

Countries that Have Lost Most Troops Serving with UN Peacekeeping Forces:
1. India – 158
2. Nigeria – 144
3. Pakistan – 137
4. Ghana – 133
5. Bangladesh – 123
6. Canada – 122
7. France – 111
8. UK – 103
9. Ethiopia – 98
10. Ireland – 90

Source
: UN Peacekeeping

- Denis Fitzgeald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Peacekeeper Killed Amid Israel – Hezbollah Tension

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Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, 36, was mortally wounded on Wednesday while serving with UNIFIL in southern Lebanon. (photo: UN/Spain)

Jan 28, 2015 –  A Spanish peacekeeper serving with the UN force in Lebanon was killed on Wednesday after Israel responded to an attack by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

“Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo died this morning during incidents between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the area of ​​responsibility of the Spanish contingent,” Spain’s UN mission said in a statement. “Corporal Cordoba was serving in the 4-28 position in the vicinity of Al Ghajar village.” [see map of UNIFIL deployment]

The Security Council was meeting behind closed doors at 4pm ET to discuss the incident. Spain is currently a non-permanent member of the Council, beginning its two-year term on Jan 1 this year.

There are some 10,000 troops from 36 countries serving with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon. Corporal Toledo, who was married, was serving his second tour of duty with UNIFIL, having deployed in November. He is the 308th peacekeeping fatality for the mission since its formation in 1978.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed earlier when Hezbollah fired on an Israel army convoy in the Shebba farms area along Israel, Syria and Lebanese borders.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

UN Peacekeepers Observe IDF Interacting With Al Nusra in Golan

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Dec. 4, 2014 – UN troops monitoring the 1974 ceasefire between Israel and Syria have witnessed interactions between members of the Israeli Defence Forces and the Al Nusra Front who have taken over a large part of the Golan Heights.

The information is included in a report by Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council issued on Thursday on the activities of the UN Disengagement Observer Force. The peacekeeping mission was forced to relocate its troops from the Golan because of a deteriorating security situation which included 45 Fijian troops kidnapped by the rebels in August.

In the report Ban writes, “Following the evacuation of UNDOF personnel from position 85 on 28 August, UNDOF sporadically observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85.” [see map]

The bulk of the 930-strong UNDOF force have relocated to the Israeli (Alpha) side of the ceasefire line while the mission maintains some positions in southern and northern (Mount Hermon) parts of the Golan Heights. Because of the limited capacity to perform its mandate, Ban has recommended reducing the force by some 200 troops.

In their hasty withdrawal from positions in the Golan in mid-September, the troops were unable to secure all of their assets. “Unfortunately some assets and equipment were left behind,” Ban writes. UN Tribune reported in September that Al Nusra had previously seized several UN armored vehicles as well as taken command of facilities the UN had vacated.

Ban identifies Al Nusra as the group behind the kidnapping of the UN troops. “It should be noted here that from information posted on social media as well as in the course of its efforts to secure the release of the peacekeepers, the United Nations learned that its personnel had been taken and held by members of the Nusra Front. There were indications that the Nusra Front intended to detain additional UNDOF personnel and take from UNDOF more weapons and vehicles as opportunities arose.”

In the report, Ban writes that the Syrian government had threatened to bomb camps hosting IDPs in the Golan Heights.

“During the reporting period, UNDOF observed two tented camps housing internally displaced persons in the vicinity of United Nations position 80…UNDOF estimates that from 60 to 70 families live in the camps…Late in September, the Senior Syrian Arab Delegate sent a letter to the UNDOF Force Commander stating that the camps for internally displaced persons were not used for humanitarian reasons but as a base for “armed terrorist” groups who also crossed to the Alpha side. The Delegate
requested that UNDOF remove the camps within a period of 15 days, after which the camps would be considered a legitimate target for the Syrian armed forces.”

UNDOF informed the Syrian delegate that it was not in its mandate to relocate civilians displaced by conflict and urged that no attack be carried out. In addition, the ICRC were informed of the Syrian request, the report states.

It also says that Syrian forces have withdrawn from a number of locations in the ceasefire area. “Over the course of the reporting period, the Syrian armed forces withdrew from additional positions and checkpoints in the areas of separation and limitation, leaving armed groups in control of more territory in the UNDOF area of operations.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/UN Photo

Book Review: UN-Tied Nations: The United Nations, Peacekeeping & Global Governance


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Nov. 18, 2014 – Kate Seaman’s UN-Tied Nations: The United Nations, Peacekeeping and Global Governance examines the role of peacekeeping in the development of global security governance. It is a timely book in light of Ban Ki-moon’s recent announcement of a high-level panel to review UN peacekeeping operations.

Seaman begins with a discussion of the various theories and definitions of what constitutes global governance. “The reality is that global governance is not a form of world government… [it] is a highly contested and politicized concept. It does not view the international system as a state centric one, instead it tries to incorporate the many new and varied actors that now have a role to play in global governance.” These include non-governmental organizations, advocacy groups and regional organizations.

At the center of all this is the United Nations which plays a “coordinating” role in the global governance agenda, promoting “key norms such as human rights, democratization and good governance.” The hope after the end of the Cold War was that a reinvigorated UN would live up to its charter ideals of promoting peace and human rights, even though United Nations membership is – or at least according to the UN Charter – open only to “peace-loving states.”

There was a burst of Security Council activity in the early to mid-1990s with a record number of decisions, but the organization soon became “overwhelmed” and failed to respond in Rwanda and Somalia. It became readily apparent that “traditional peacekeeping” was inadequate to cope with new challenges and “coupled with ‘the desire by UN officials and member states to pick winners and avoid failures meant that the UN was as interested in its own security as it was in human security’.”

Moreover, ambitious Security Council mandates tasked peacekeepers with a range of duties such as from early economic recovery to election monitoring, but the mandates were not matched with the resources to fulfill them and there was a disconnect between the demands placed on peacekeepers and their ability to perform these tasks.

The past decade has seen a resurgence in UN peacekeeping operations but the same problems and challenges remain: legitimacy and resources, coupled with new challenges in tackling the changing nature of conflicts with non-state actors increasingly involved.

The book examines a number of case studies and thoroughly reviews the existing literature on global governance and peacekeeping. There are useful insights from the author’s interviews with UN officials and diplomats – their anonymity allows more candidness than one is used to from diplomats and secretariat officials in their public remarks.

Perennial problems such as reform of the Council is also discussed with observations ranging from an expanded Council would only lead to an even more crippling decision making process to ensuring major troop contributing countries have a say in decisions. There’s something of a consensus, however, on that improving the Council’s working methods should be as much, if not more, of a priority than reforming the Council’s existing structure.

In concluding, Seaman writes that, “The UN has simply become another political tool of governments, used to validate their actions and policies… if the UN is ever to achieve the ideals on which it was established, member states will have to be much more willing to provide resources and to politically support the organization and the Secretariat in what they are trying to achieve.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Al Nusra Placed Explosives at UNDOF Site, Stole Vehicles, Uniforms

UNDOF
Sept. 15, 2014 – Al Qaeda linked militants have taken over UN positions in Golan, are wearing United Nations blue berets and after taking Fijian troops hostage they surrounded another UN base with explosives to prevent troops from evacuating, detonating one of the explosives.

These are among the details in Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the beleaguered UNDOF mission in Golan where on Monday the UN evacuated all its troops to the Israeli side of the ceasefire line after the security situation deteriorated even further.

Some 300 militants were involved in the incident where the 45 Fijian troops were taken captive, Ban’s report says. The troops were released on Thursday. The Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that Qatar paid a $20 million ransom to release the peacekeepers.

Ban’s report presents the peacekeepers as essentially operating in an active war zone, caught up in a conflict between armed opposition groups and Syrian armed forces. The IDF have also fired numerous artillery rounds and launched air strikes as a result of firing from the Syrian side into Israel, including dropping several bombs near Camp Faouar, the headquarters for the UN mission in Golan. A number of Syrian government soldiers were killed as a result of Israeli fire.

The report, released on Monday, also says cluster munitions have been used near UN facilities.

Syrian armed forces are operating inside the ceasefire line in breach of the disengagement agreement. There are at least ten tanks belonging to Syrian forces operating inside the zone while armed groups also possess tanks. Both sides are operating checkpoints inside the area, the report, which covers May 29 to Sept. 3, states.

The armed groups are “in control of numerous United Nations armoured vehicles,” and have looted and taken command of facilities that UN troops have vacated.

“The activities of several armed elements, including the al-Nusra Front, in the UNDOF area of operation since late August, and the direct confrontations with United Nations personnel, forced UNDOF to vacate all but one of its positions in the southern area of separation,” the report states [see map]. “Armed opposition groups and other armed groups have gained control of a large part of the area of separation, including a section of the main road connecting  the two UNDOF camps and the crossing between the Alpha [Israeli] and the Bravo [Syrian] sides.”

The report adds that the UN peacekeepers have witnessed several interactions between the Israeli Defense Forces and armed groups.

“Throughout the reporting period, UNDOF frequently observed armed members of the opposition interacting with IDF across the ceasefire line in the vicinity of United Nations position 85. UNDOF observed armed members of the opposition transferring 47 wounded persons from the Bravo side across the ceasefire line to IDF, and IDF on the Alpha side handing over 43 treated individuals to the armed members of the opposition on the Bravo side,” it says.

UNDOF, which costs $64 million per year to run as of 2014, was created in 1974 to observe the disengagement agreement between Syria and Israel. It currently has 1,271 troops, including 48 women, from Fiji, Ireland, the Philippines, Nepal, India and the Netherlands.

In his conclusion, Ban writes that “UNDOF will continue to use its best efforts to monitor the ceasefire between Syrian and Israeli forces and see that it is observed, albeit in increasingly challenging and difficult circumstances.” He also calls for greater support from the Security Council who are scheduled to discuss Ban’s report on Sept. 18.

But it appears that the fate of the mission is sealed for now after Monday’s decision to relocate all troops to the Israeli side, essentially ending UNDOF’s mission to operate in the separation zone observing the ceasefire agreement.

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Fijian UNDOF Troops Released

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UNDOF Force Commander Singha Welcomes Back Fijian Troops

Sept. 11, 2014 – Forty-five Fijian troops serving with the UN’s Golan observer mission were released on Thursday after two weeks in captivity.

“Today at 1430hrs local time, the 45 Fijian peacekeepers who had been detained were handed to UNDOF at Position 80,” [see map] the UN spokesperson’s office in New York said in an email to reporters. “All the 45 peacekeepers are in good condition and will proceed back to Camp Foar for medical assessment.”

Ban Ki-moon welcomed the release of the troops who were taken by Al Nusra from Position 27 on August 28th.

“The Secretary-General emphasizes to all parties the impartiality of United Nations peacekeepers. UNDOF is on the ground to monitor the Disengagement of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria,” his office said in a statement. “The Secretary-General demands that all parties respect UNDOF’s mandate, freedom of movement and the safety and security of its personnel.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: Courtesy of UN Press Office

Council to Meet on UNDOF Sept. 18

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Sept. 3 – The Security Council will receive Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the UNDOF mission in the Golan Heights on Sept. 12 and is set to meet with peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous over the future of the mission six days later.

Forty-five Fijian UNDOF peacekeepers taken hostage last week by Al Nusra remain in captivity.

Ladsous spoke to reporters at UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday and backed UNDOF force commander Iqbal Singh Singha amid reports that he ordered a Filipino contingent to hand over their weapons to the Al Nusra militants holding the Fijian troops.

He said the Filipino troops were told to “keep their weapons quiet” but not to surrender them.

He added that the Dept. of Peacekeeping Operations is looking at “the way the force is configured.”

The Philippines announced in August that it is withdrawing its troops from UNDOF at the end of September citing security concerns (it is also withdrawing its troops from UNMIL in Liberia over the Ebola outbreak).

Ireland’s Defence Minister Simon Coveney told Morning Ireland on Monday that the Irish government would seek a review of the mission before deciding whether to send new troops when the current contingent end their tour of duty at the end of September.

Ban Ki-moon recommended over a year ago that the force’s self-defense capabilities be enhanced. While the force has received more robust armor, it is understood that both the UN Secretariat and troop contributing countries believe the Security Council has not done enough to ensure UNDOF has the defensive equipment it needs.

Irish troops, along with the Fijian contingent, were deployed after Japanese, Croatian and Austrian troops withdrew last year because of the security situation. Austria had been the longest serving contributor to the mission, having joined UNDOF when it was formed in 1974 to observe the ceasefire agreement between Syria and Israel following the end of the 1973 war.

The Council also increased the size of the force in June last year by about 300 troops. It’s current configuation has over 1,200 troops from six countries.

Ladsous said on Wednesday that in addition to Al Nusrah there are about six or seven other armed opposition groups operating in the area of separation.

In Ban Ki-moon’s report to the Council in June this year, he outlined a number of incidents in which the security of UNDOF troops was threatened. As a result of the security situation, Ban is required to report on UNDOF every three months instead of the usual six.

In his June 2014 report, Ban wrote that armed opposition groups were tailing UNDOF patrols, presumably as protection from Syrian government forces, that two peacekeepers were injured by a tank round on July 7, and that another patrol witnessed members of an armed group walking past its post with a severed head.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz