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General News Thu, 29 May 2003

International Day of the Peacekeeper Today

May 29 each year has been declared International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, the United Nations has announced.

The United Nations Resolution 57/129 set aside the day, whose celebration starts from today, Thursday May 29 2003.

It is to pay tribute to the men and women who have served and continue to serve in UN peacekeeping operations and also to honour the memory of those who had lost their lives in the quest for peace.

This was announced by Ms Margaret Novicki, Director of the UN Information Centre at a news conference organized by the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF) and the Police Service at Burma Camp in Accra to update the media on Ghana's participation in UN peace support operations.

MS. Novicki said last year, the UN General Assembly decided that the heroic and often unsung work of the UN Peacekeepers deserved to be recognised and declared May 29 as a special day to pay tribute to all peacekeepers who had served in UN operations, as well as honour the memory of those who had lost their lives in those operations.

She said the day was chosen because on May 29, 1948, the first UN peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO), began operations with a group of unarmed military observers in Palestine.

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Since then, there had been 56 UN peacekeeping missions of which five were in Africa: Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Western Sahara and the latest one in Cote d'Ivoire.

Nearly 37,000 military and police personnel from 89 countries are currently serving in UN Missions on three continents, along with over 3,300 international civilian personnel and over 6,700 local civilian personnel.

Ms Novicki said peacekeeping was not without considerable risk and human cost, as about 1,819 Peacekeepers had lost their lives since 1948, including over a hundred at the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone.

She said the Secretary-General of the UN, Mr. Kofi Annan, in a videotaped message to be broadcast to Peacekeepers around the world today emphasises that the mission of the UN peacekeeping remains vital and that while "peacekeeping by itself could not end a war.... it could prevent a recurrence of fighting. Above all, it gives time and space for conflict resolution. It gives peace a chance."

Brigadier Samuel Odotei, the Chief of Staff of the GAF said the country's involvement in international peacekeeping dated back to the 1960's, when it sent troops to take part in ONUC in Congo.

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He said Ghana, after this first experience had continued to contribute troops to UN peacekeeping operations across the world.

Ghana is the fifth largest contributor of military personnel to UN peacekeeping operations. This is significant because of the size of the GAF as compared to other armies the world over.

Brig. Odotei noted that Ghana had not only participated in UN peacekeeping missions but had actively supported regional peace operations under the ECOWAS, particularly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the on-going operation in Cote d'Ivoire.

He said apart from the official government participation in UN peacekeeping missions with military and police personnel, Ghanaian civilians employed by the UN had also been deployed in nearly all the UN field missions across the world.

Presently, Ghana has 650 troops serving with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, 795 personnel in the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, 484 personnel with the UN Mission in Congo, 17, military observers with the UN Mission in Ethiopia/ Eritrea and 14 personnel in Western Sahara.

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More than 80,000 Ghanaian troops have rotated in more than 31 UN and sub regional peacekeeping missions and more than a hundred have lost their lives.

Brig. Odotei noted that one of the challenges facing the GAF in launching troops into new peace support operations was the great financial strain because troops had to be provided with the required operational and logistical needs to meet the threat on other demands on the ground.

The Chief of Staff said that Ghana's participation in these peace support operations had brought immense benefits to the GAF in particular and the nation as a whole.

As part of activities to mark the day, there would be a parade mounted by the GAF and other stakeholders in peace support operations at the Independence Square today Thursday May 29.

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