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Jun 1, 2010

U.N. urges caution as more aid ships head to Gaza

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations urged caution on Tuesday as activists at sea vowed to break through Israel’s blockade of Gaza, hours after the Security Council demanded an investigation into a deadly Israeli commando raid.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe told reporters that the world body was aware of media reports that at least one more ship laden with aid and pro-Palestinian activists was bound for the Gaza Strip, a day after Israeli marines killed at least nine activists who Israel said had brutally attacked the commandos.

Jun 1, 2010

U.N. Council condemns deaths on Gaza flotilla

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday condemned acts that caused the deaths of civilians during an Israeli operation against an aid flotilla heading for Gaza and called for an impartial investigation.

In a carefully crafted formal statement adopted after more than 10 hours of closed-door negotiations and which quickly gave rise to conflicting interpretations, the council requested the immediate release of ships and civilians held by Israel.

May 28, 2010

UN to make small cut in Congo peacekeeping force

UNITED NATIONS, May 28 (Reuters) – The Security Council on Friday authorized the withdrawal of up to 2,000 troops from the U.N. peacekeeping force in Congo over the next month but made no pledge on further cuts despite pressure from Kinshasa.

Potential investors and human rights groups fear a too hasty withdrawal of the 20,500-member MONUC force would trigger more violence in a country struggling to recover from a 1998-2003 war and still battling rebels across its territory.

Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila wants the force out by the end of next year for what U.N. officials say are reasons of national pride.

A resolution passed unanimously by the 15-nation Security Council authorized "the withdrawal of up to 2,000 United Nations military personnel by 30 June 2010 from areas where the security situation permits."

The resolution extended the mandate of MONUC — the largest U.N. peace force anywhere in the world — until the end of June, and said it would be renamed MONUSCO, a new French acronym that makes it a "stabilization" mission.

MONUSCO was authorized to stay in Congo for an additional year, and the council said future reductions in the force would depend on conditions on the ground and the achievement of goals by the Congo government and the U.N. force.

These would include completion of operations in the turbulent east against guerrilla groups including the Rwandan Hutu FDLR and the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as an improved ability by the government to protect its population.

"SYMBOLIC DRAWDOWN"

Aid workers say Congolese army troops, as well as guerrilla groups, have committed atrocities, including murders, rapes and robberies, on civilians in eastern Congo, where competition to exploit valuable minerals combines with ethnic tensions.

The council was determined to avoid a security vacuum that could spawn more violence in the country, the resolution, passed at a brief council meeting, said.

Despite the lack of a solid commitment to remove MONUSCO next year, Congo’s Information Minister Lambert Mende said his country was happy with the resolution.

"We have 20 months before the end of the 2011 deadline to discuss the retreat of the rest of the troops — that is a lot of time and nothing is urgent," he told Reuters.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy noted that June 30 of this year was the day Congo would celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence. "President Kabila wanted to have some symbolic drawdown around June 2010," he told reporters in New York.

Aid group Oxfam said the United Nations should be cautious about reducing the number of its peacekeepers in Congo.

"Many parts of Congo are still extremely insecure and violence is a daily threat," said Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam in Congo. (Additional reporting by Katrina Manson in Lubumbashi, Congo; editing by David Storey)




May 26, 2010

UN sees world recovery speeding up but still weak

UNITED NATIONS, May 26 (Reuters) – The United Nations
revised upward on Wednesday its forecast for world economic
growth this year, but said recovery from the global crisis was
still slowed by joblessness, debt and sluggish credit flows.

“The recovery … is uneven across countries,” said a
mid-year update to an annual report issued last December.

May 25, 2010

UN council agrees to pull Chad force by year-end

UNITED NATIONS, May 25 (Reuters) – Bowing to demands by the government of Chad, the Security Council on Tuesday instructed U.N. peacekeeping troops to withdraw from the poor, violence-ridden country by the end of the year.

A council resolution extended the mandate of the force, which had been due to expire on Wednesday, just until Dec. 31 — a compromise with Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who had originally asked for it to start leaving in March.

Under the resolution, the force known as MINURCAT will cut back from its current strength of around 3,300 troops to 1,900 in Chad by July 15, plus 300 in the neighboring Central African Republic (CAR), and begin a final withdrawal from Oct. 15.

MINURCAT has only been in Chad since 2007 and its military component only since last year. Its main tasks have been to protect civilians and secure supplies of food and other aid to refugees in the Northeast of the drought-hit country, a region known for lawlessness and banditry.

U.N. officials say there are about 500,000 refugees in the area, half of them from the turbulent Darfur region of neighboring Sudan and the rest from Chad itself and the CAR. They and private aid agencies have been concerned that pulling MINURCAT out too soon will leave the refugees vulnerable.

But in asking for the force to leave, Deby complained that it had not fully deployed and had failed to protect civilians or build promised infrastructure projects.

Three U.N. visits to Chad succeeded in persuading Deby to allow a gradual withdrawal of the force — which the world body says needs government consent to stay — but not to reverse his decision to require its departure.

In a statement on the unanimous council resolution, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Chadian authorities would assume responsibility for protecting civilians from Thursday.

PROTECTING CONVOYS

The resolution approved by all 15 council members said Chad had promised to improve security and facilitate aid delivery in the East. A joint Chad/U.N. working group would assess the government’s performance on a monthly basis.

Residual MINURCAT tasks would include training Chadian security forces and — until Oct. 15 — providing security for U.N. personnel. In one concession, the force will be authorized "to respond to imminent threats of violence to civilians in its immediate vicinity," the resolution said.

The only speaker at Tuesday’s council session, Austrian Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, said his country "would have preferred a more gradual approach in the drawdown of MINURCAT as well as the continuation of a protection of civilians mandate for the mission."

"Austria believes that the possibility of a further international engagement in eastern Chad should not be excluded if deemed necessary for humanitarian reasons," he said.

The prospect of MINURCAT leaving has worried the U.N. World Food Program, which said this month Chad would have to provide a "a mobile and efficient force" to protect its convoys.

On Tuesday, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said relief efforts for 2 million people facing food shortages in Chad were suffering because donors were concentrating aid on neighboring Niger.

Chad, a former French colony, is near the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index, a composite benchmark that includes literacy rates, life expectancy and economic wealth. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)




May 24, 2010

EU might not revoke Sri Lanka trade boon-minister

UNITED NATIONS, May 24 (Reuters) – Sri Lanka could still avoid the withdrawal of European Union trade concessions over its human rights record following two rounds of talks with Brussels, the Asian country’s foreign minister said on Monday.

The EU is due to cancel in August a trade preference amounting to $150 million annually that helps Sri Lanka’s top export, garments, after finding the country failed to adhere to a number of rights conventions required under the scheme.

Rights groups have said the Sri Lankan government should be investigated for potential war crimes at the end of a quarter-century war against separatist Tamil guerrillas a year ago. Colombo has denied the allegations and rejected charges that tens of thousands of civilians died.

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris told Reuters in an interview that a team of Sri Lankan officials had made two trips to Brussels, the second of them at the end of last week, to discuss the trade preference and Sri Lanka’s rights record.

"It’s an ongoing discussion," he said. "There’s no final decision and it is still possible that the parties will be able to agree on a set of measures to be implemented to prevent the withdrawal of these trade concessions later this year."

No date for further talks had been set, but Colombo would be in touch with the EU, he said. "If they feel that any further clarification is necessary … we would certainly not be averse to sending a team … to continue talks."

Peiris said EU officials had praised Sri Lanka for relaxing wartime emergency rules earlier this month and for resettling in their home areas most of the almost 300,000 people who fled as the government moved in to crush the Tamil Tiger fighters.

NEW DEVELOPMENT

This month, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa named an eight-person "commission on lessons learned and reconciliation" to look into the last seven years of the war, a move welcomed by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

Peiris said that because the appointment of the commission, the United Nations should drop a plan announced by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in March to set up a panel to advise him on "accountability issues" in Sri Lanka. Ban has not so far named the members of the panel.

"The situation has been transformed by this new development," Peiris said, arguing that Sri Lankans would see the U.N. panel as foreign intervention.

Ban "must recognize the current reality of the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka and not pursue what he had earlier proposed," he added.

Ban told reporters shortly before he was to meet Peiris he was "still working on" setting up the panel and suggested one of its tasks would be to assess the Sri Lankan commission.

"The group of experts will have to advise me (on) the basic character and the role of this commission. This is what I have in my mind," the U.N. chief said.

Peiris dismissed charges that past Sri Lankan commissions of inquiry had achieved little. "Of course it has teeth," he said of the new commission, saying its mandate gave it power to determine whether individuals should be held responsible.

Peiris said he would travel to Washington on Tuesday to meet U.S. government officials. He also said he expected U.N. political chief Lynn Pascoe to visit Sri Lanka in the next two to three weeks. (Editing by Eric Walsh)




May 21, 2010

Top U.N. officials in Sudan to go to Bashir ceremony

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations is sending its two top officials in Sudan to the inauguration next week of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the target of an international arrest warrant, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Friday.

Bashir, the subject of an arrest warrant issued in March 2009 by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) on suspicion of war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region, was elected president last month in a vote marred by charges of fraud.

May 17, 2010

U.N. picks Costa Rican Figueres as new climate chief

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations appointed Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica on Monday to be its climate chief to head stalled international talks on how to contain the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Figueres, 53, the choice of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is the first leader of the U.N. climate change secretariat to come from a developing country. She will take over from Dutchman Yvo de Boer from July 1.

May 13, 2010

U.N. panel sees future shortage of specialty metals

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Recycling rates for many specialty metals used in high-tech devices are so low — often less than 1 percent — that they may become unavailable in two to three decades, a U.N.-appointed panel said on Thursday.

The figure was disclosed as the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP) began issuing a series of reports on metals, designed to encourage more recycling of existing metal stocks rather than depending on fresh mining for ores.

May 12, 2010

UN council puts off decision on Chad peacekeepers

UNITED NATIONS, May 12 (Reuters) – The Security Council on Wednesday put off for two weeks a decision on the future of U.N. peacekeepers in poor and violence-ridden Chad, which wants the peacekeepers to leave.

The current mandate of the force, known by its French acronym MINURCAT, expires on Saturday. In a move known in U.N. jargon as a technical rollover, a brief council resolution extended the mandate until May 26, saying proposals for the force needed thorough consideration.

The main tasks of the mission are to protect civilians and secure supplies of food and other aid to refugees in the Northeast of the drought-hit central African country, a region known for lawlessness and banditry.

U.N. officials say there are about half a million refugees in the area, half of them from the turbulent Darfur region of neighboring Sudan and the rest from Chad and the Central African Republic. They say withdrawing MINURCAT too soon would leave the refugees vulnerable.

Chad’s President Idriss Deby asked the Security Council earlier this year not to renew the mandate of the mission, saying it had not fully deployed and had failed to protect civilians or build promised infrastructure projects.

Since then, the United Nations has sent three teams to try to persuade Deby to allow a gradual withdrawal of the force, which the world body says needs government consent to stay.

In a recent report to the council, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed that MINURCAT be authorized to stay on for another year, but with a changed mandate.

PROTECTING CONVOYS

The force would immediately hand to Chadian authorities responsibility for protecting civilians and cut its numbers in Chad from the current 3,300 — about two thirds of its originally intended strength — to 1,900. Those remaining would cease all operations on Oct. 15 and themselves start leaving.

U.N. diplomats said members of the council had postponed a decision because they had not had enough time to study Ban’s report, which was delivered to them on April 29.

One diplomat said, "I think everyone is more or less agreed that 1,900 troops, as suggested by the secretary-general, is the way forward."

But he added, "The devil is in the details. In what context are we going to mention protection of civilians? Do the Chadians have the ability to do it? What would happen if there were a threat?"

The prospect of MINURCAT leaving has concerned the U.N. World Food Program, which said last week that Chad would have to provide a "a mobile and efficient force" to protect its convoys. The WFP says up to 2.5 million people lack adequate nutrition in Chad.

Chad, a former French colony, is near the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index, a composite benchmark that includes literacy rates, life expectancy and economic wealth. (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)




    • About Patrick

      "Patrick Worsnip covers the New York-based activities of the United Nations. He joined Reuters as a graduate trainee in 1971 and has had postings in Rome, Moscow, Warsaw, Tehran, Beirut and Washington as well as serving as London-based diplomatic correspondent and as an editor-in-charge on the London World Desk."
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