28 May 2004

United Nations Commemorates International Day of Peacekeepers: Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia Valuable Contributors to UN Peacekeeping

VIENNA, 28 May (UN Information Service) -- The United Nations will observe the International Day of UN Peacekeepers for the second time on Saturday, 29 May. The General Assembly created the Day two years ago to pay tribute to "all the men and women who have served and continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations, as well as to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace." The first UN peacekeeping mission began with a group of military observers in Palestine on 29 May 1948.

 "Last year, the International Day of UN Peacekeepers was inaugurated to commemorate more than half a century of dedication and sacrifice by peacekeepers serving under the UN's blue flag around the world to build confidence, reconcile warring parties and relieve suffering. Alas, the past 12 months have given us many more such sacrifices to mourn", United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his message to commemorate the Day.

The challenges that UN peacekeeping operations face in 2004 are immense: more than 53,000 uniformed personnel and at least 11,000 civilian staff from 94 countries serve in 15 missions around the world. UN peacekeeping has also moved beyond its traditional role as a monitor of ceasefires to engaging in such tasks as assisting political transitions, building institutions and fostering the spread of the rule of law. Missions are also supporting economic reconstruction, supervising elections, disarming militias and former combatants, facilitating humanitarian aid programmes and re-settling refugees and displaced persons.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean Marie Guéhenno stressed in an article in the International Herald Tribune (19 April 2004) that "the current surge will push the system to the outer limits of its capacity, creating major challenges in the areas of planning, force generation, logistics procurement, command and control". Therefore, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urges Member States in his message "to provide the additional peacekeepers that will be needed and the resources to go with them".

Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia -- the four client countries of the United Nations Information Service, Vienna (UNIS) -- are among the traditional troop contributing countries of the United Nations 191 Member States. According to the ranking list of troop contributors (as of 30 April 2004) Slovakia is 27th, Austria is 29th, Hungary is 49th and Slovenia 68th on the list.

Austria has 40 years of experience in peacekeeping. In 1960, an Austrian contingent went to Congo for the first time to run a casualty-clearing station there. The United Nations Force In Cyprus (UNFICYP) started in 1964 mainly with medical support. Then from 1972 to 2001, an infantry battalion was stationed there. In 1974, the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel also saw the participation of peacekeepers from Austria. In the 1990s, interest focused on different missions in the Balkans. About 60,000 Austrian soldiers have been serving in international missions until now and about 40 Austrian soldiers have died in these missions. Currently, 994 men of the Austrian army are stationed abroad, 424 of them work under a UN flag in 7 currently running peacekeeping missions (35 civilian police, 12 military observers and 377 troops).

  Hungary dates its first peacekeeping mission back to 1896, when Hungarian troops separated Greeks and Turkish enemy units in Crete. Since then Hungary has provided peacekeepers to different crises areas of the world such as Iraq, Bosnia or Kosovo. Approximately 600 Hungarian officers have served or are serving with international peacekeeping missions as military observers, civilian police or peacekeeping troops, of which 145 serve within 4 different UN operations (7 civilian police, 16 military observers and 122 troops).

Slovakia is a traditional contributor to peacekeeping missions. Since its genesis in January 1993, it has taken part in 14 UN peacekeeping missions in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, in Liberia, on the border between Uganda and Rwanda, and in Angola. Slovakia is also intensely involved in other international peacekeeping missions under the command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Approximately 7,000 Slovak soldiers had accomplished peacekeeping duties and currently 503 serve in 5 different UN peace operations (4 military observers and 499 troops).     

Since its independence in 1991 and its admission to the UN less than a year later, Slovenia had its troops participate in several peacekeeping missions. In 1997, it decided to participate in the mission in Albania with a platoon-sized medical unit. This medical unit was the first formation of the Slovenian army in a multinational peacekeeping. So far about 300 Slovene army soldiers and 100 policemen have served in international peacekeeping mission. In the past, the Slovene army also participated in the UNFICYP mission in Cyprus, and the police in East Timor within the frame of the UNMISET mission, facilitating the smooth transition of the East Timor Government. Currently there are 196 soldiers and 30 policemen stationed abroad. Slovenia is taking part in two UN missions, the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and  the United Nation Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) with 23 peacekeepers (21 civilian police and 2 military observers).

In examining the possibilities for contribution to UN peacekeeping, one problem often raised among medium-sized and smaller countries is the relatively limited human and financial resource capacity. Facing similar constraints Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia developed several co-operation frameworks amongst themselves to field peacekeeping troops jointly as was the case with the UNFICYP, where Austrian, Hungarian, Slovenian and Slovak troops worked together.

UNIS Vienna plans to commemorate the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers with a special discussion forum on the current challenges facing peacekeepers in today's complex missions, to be held on Friday, 4 June 2004, in the UNIS Multimedia room (G0545) at the Vienna International Centre at 12.30 hours.

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