A not-so-happy Peacekeeper’s Day

by | May 29, 2008

For those readers wondering why I posted the new George Clooney “Waging Peace” video immediately below, it’s Peacekeeper’s Day. But although this is sixtieth year of UN peacekeeping, it’s rather hard to be of good cheer, as news has also come in of the first UN peacekeeper killed in Darfur:

The joint U.N.-African Union mission in Darfur says a Ugandan member of the force has been fatally shot. The police officer is the first member of the mission slain since the troops deployed five months ago.

John Kennedy Okecha was found dead in a vehicle operated by the UNAMID force in North Darfur on Wednesday, the mission said. He had been shot three times, in the neck, chest and stomach. UNAMID described the killing as “an act of cold blooded murder” and appealed to anyone with knowledge of the slaying to come forward.

The timing is probably coincidental, although you don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to wonder if this wasn’t a deliberate message of contempt from… who can say? Killing just one peacekeeper can have a powerful deterrent effect, as in the slaying of an EU soldier on the Chad/Darfur border earlier this year. Today’s news led UN peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno to dwell on the weaknesses of his forces – typical of his intellectual honesty, but a sign of the UN’s vulnerability:

“Do we have enough resources to protect ourselves and therefore to protect the people we have come to help? Frankly, as I’ve told you before, we don’t have them in Darfur,” he said. “We don’t have the firepower that would allow us to do what we’re expected to do. And that’s very dangerous. It’s dangerous for our people.”

Guehenno is approaching the end of his term in office, and will be missed. As I’ve recently noted, the international community should welcome his successor with a package of proposals on how to give the UN more muscle – but it’s hard to feel optimistic. Even with George on board. Happy Peacekeeper’s Day.

PS: it’s worth adding that the African Union lost nearly 50 personnel in Darfur up to the end of last year. Many of them pretty much unreported.

UPDATE: I discussed this with a UN person shortly after finishing the original post, and they pointed out something that hasn’t been highlighted in the media coverage I’ve seen so far. Nothing was stolen from the murdered peacekeeper. So the chances that this was banditry are pretty low. It looks political.


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