Military

Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's opening remarks at a meeting held today with chiefs of defence staff of United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) Troop Contributors:

It is a pleasure to welcome you to United Nations Headquarters. This is a unique event. Never before in the history of United Nations peacekeeping has a Secretary-General of the United Nations had the privilege of addressing chiefs of staff of Member States participating in a peacekeeping operation. Your presence here underscores the crucial contribution that the armed forces of Member States can and do make in advancing the objectives of the United Nations in the field of peace and security.

As you know, the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) has gone through some very difficult times since last May, when peacekeeping gave way to open hostilities. It is my sincere hope that we have now turned a corner, both in strengthening UNAMSIL and in stabilizing the situation in Sierra Leone. Still, we must remain vigilant and be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Such an approach is clearly warranted by recent events, and is also consistent with the findings of the Brahimi panel, whose report is being released today.

All too often, the United Nations is required to operate in areas of civil conflict where the commitment of one or more of the parties to a peace process is wavering or absent.

The traditional model of peacekeeping -- lightly armed soldiers, operating in a permissive environment with the consent and cooperation of responsible parties -- is making way for a more robust and assertive type of peacekeeping, as is the case with UNAMSIL.

Let me take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude for the steadfast determination of troop contributors. As UNAMSIL faced its darkest hours, you did not abandon the Mission. Indeed, contributors flew in reinforcements. Of course, it is the soldiers on the ground who most merit our admiration. They deserve our full support as the mission continues.


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The events in May exposed serious problems, as the assessment mission led by Mr. Eisele confirmed. If UNAMSIL is to be as efficient and as cohesive as it needs to be, we must face and solve these problems together. I would like to stress three aspects of this challenge:

The first is command and control. Questions about command and control have accompanied United Nations peacekeeping almost since its inception. We have learned, sometimes painfully, that when command in the field is divided, the risks increase, including the risk of casualties.

I am sure you would agree that UNAMSIL needs to function as a single integrated unit that reflects the will and solidarity of the international community. All contingents must be equally willing and ready to share the risks on the ground.

Having said that, I should emphasize that the Head of Mission and the Force Commander should ensure that all national contingent commanders are involved in operational planning and decision-making, especially where their respective contingents are concerned.

However, such consultations should not be allowed to cause undue delay. Nor should they undermine the authority of the United Nations command, or turn into indirect negotiations with capitals on deployment sites and other operational issues. This is true of all peacekeeping missions. In the volatile and dangerous environment in which UNAMSIL operates, it is especially important that the leadership and all contingents share a common understanding of the tasks at hand and work together as a team.

A second main problem concerns equipment shortfalls. Many of the difficulties experienced by UNAMSIL can be attributed to a lack of essential equipment. Our troops need vehicles, tents, communications equipment and more. Our soldiers deserve the best possible support. We are grateful for the serious efforts that all troop contributors have made to equip their troops. I know that meeting United Nations standards, with little outside assistance, can involve great national expense, especially at a time when defence budgets are targeted for savings. I would like to stress to all contributors that the United Nations continues to be ready to work with you to solve any problems you may encounter in fulfilling this important responsibility.

A third key problem involves the mandate and rules of engagement. Ever since the mission's establishment, the mandate of UNAMSIL and the environment in which UNAMSIL operates have been in a state of flux. This has led to questions about the nature of the operation and its ability to use force. However, the objectives of the international


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community have remained largely the same, as I have indicated in my reports to the Security Council. The rules of engagement of UNAMSIL have likewise remained the same since the mission's inception in October 1999.

My colleagues are ready to discuss this matter in greater detail. Let me just make clear that UNAMSIL has always been intended as a robust peacekeeping force -- impartial in terms of its political position vis- -vis the parties, but strong in its ability to deter attacks and to defend itself and its mandate should this become necessary. As I have often stressed, at times the United Nations needs to show force to avoid having to use it. And if the use of force is unavoidable, the United Nations should be capable of delivering in a credible fashion. Of course, I should stress that the priority of the United Nations in Sierra Leone and elsewhere has always been to avoid force to the extent possible and to find a political solution first.

My colleagues [Mr. Miyet, Lt.-Gen. Fraticelli, Maj.-Gen. Jetley, Mr. Phelan] will provide a more comprehensive briefing on these and other issues.

Let me close by stressing that this is a crucial moment for Sierra Leone and for our Mission there. The Security Council has shown consistent political will -- in clamping down on the illegal exports of diamonds that have helped fuel this conflict; in deciding to create an independent special court to prosecute war crimes; in authorizing an increase in the strength of the force in response to the May events, and most recently in expressing its intention to strengthen the mandate.

We have already shared with your delegations our thinking on how such a strengthened mandate could be implemented, and we look forward to hearing your views before I finalize my recommendations to the Council with respect to the strengthening of UNAMSIL. As you will understand, a strengthened mandate will also mean a need for more troops, and we may therefore have to ask you to provide additional units.

Let us now have an open and constructive exchange. I know that some of the troop contributors are seeking additional clarity about the mandate and have their own views on how the operation should be conducted.

That is an important reason why this meeting of military professions, with direct responsibility for the men and women on the ground, is so important. Let us show that such a gathering can be successful. Let us solve our problems together. And let us emerge with a renewed and common sense of purpose. We must succeed in this


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endeavour, for the sake of the soldiers under our command, for the people of Sierra Leone -- and indeed for other countries where the peacekeeping abilities of the United Nations will be needed in times to come.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce my colleagues. I now give the floor to the President of the Security Council.

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