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Press Conference by peacekeeping force commanders, 20 June 2012

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

Peacekeeping missions had broad mandates ranging from fighting cholera to mitigating conflict, United Nations peacekeeping force commanders said today at a Headquarters press conference, held to coincide with a briefing they gave to the Security Council on the operational challenges they were facing (see Press Release SC/10679).

Three of the four commanders who briefed the Council — Lieutenant General Chander Prakash, Force Commander, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO); Major General Moses Bisong Obi, Force Commander, United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and Major General Fernando Rodrigues Goulart, Force Commander, United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) – spoke to reporters.

Lieutenant General Prakash stated that the mandate of MONUSCO was twofold: protection of civilians and stabilization. Stabilization included multifaceted issues such as security sector reforms and judiciary. Of the total number of boots on the ground, 94 per cent were deployed in the eastern DRC.

Major General Obi stated that his mission had been set up to support the newest nation in the world. There was a strong protection mandate as well as capacity building and the mission had started on 9 July 2011.

Major General Goulart stated that MINUSTAH was very involved in providing and assuring security and stability, protecting civilians and supporting the national police in rule of law, as well as quickly responding to natural disasters.

Several correspondents raised questions about the conflict in Tibor in South Sudan in December 2011 and January 2012, including the number of casualties and possible use of technology, such as drones, in South Sudan in the future. In response, Major General Obi said that the government of South Sudan was very new and still setting up various functions. The UNMISS had made every effort to anticipate and mitigate the retaliatory attacks by involving the government and churches. Casualties were estimated to be not in the thousands, but in hundreds, and it was difficult to confirm the numbers given by the local administration. As for technology, in the current era, it was important not to be shy to ask for technological support. South Sudan was a big country and surveillance equipment with the use of drones would be helpful.

He was also asked if, when the mission alerted the local people about the possible attacks, it had also told them “what to do”, since many people, including women and children, had fled to the bush where they were in more danger than if they had stayed. Major General Obi responded that, while it was difficult for him to explain the deployment of troops without maps, it was to the credit of the mission that they had been able to spot the “column of rebels.” A limited force had been deployed in some areas and still had to show a presence in other regions. Information had been shared with government and community leaders and it had been very clear that people would be defended. Further, some of the casualties were also combatants.

Responding to a question about the impact of cholera in Haiti, Major General Goulart stated that the mission had been actively involved in mitigating the effects of the disease from the beginning. MINUSTAH engineers had built cholera centres and its medical professionals had actively provided support. The mission had also undertaken the building of wells and distribution of water and kits. On a question concerning the lack of French-speaking peacekeepers in Francophone countries, Major General Goulart and Lieutenant General Prakash emphasized that, even if the official language was French, there were local languages, such as Creole in Haiti, which posed another hurdle, even if you spoke French. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lieutenant General Prakash added, the two contributing countries to the mission were from Asia. Therefore, it was not always possible to provide French-speaking peacekeepers. Nevertheless, the missions had developed a system of working with a large number of interpreters and community liaison assistants effectively.

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