Value of EU 'battlegroup' plan stressed by Annan


KOFI ANNAN IN DUBLIN: The value and importance of the proposed EU "battlegroups" for dealing with crises on behalf of the United Nations was strongly emphasised by the UN Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, in an address to the Forum on Europe at Dublin Castle yesterday.

The EU is preparing the establishment of 10 such military units, drawn from different member-states and consisting of about 1,500 soldiers each, which could be sent to trouble spots at 10 days' notice. The groups would be under the political control and strategic direction of the EU Council of Ministers, acting through its Political and Security Committee.

Mr Annan welcomed this latest development in EU security as well as moves towards closer UN-EU co-operation in crisis management, and he praised the role of Ireland's recent European Presidency in working out the details.

"During the Italian Presidency, we signed the joint UN-EU Declaration on crisis management. But it was during the Irish Presidency that we worked hard on the basis of the declaration to make sure that our co-operation was structured, substantive, and broad-based:

Structured, because it occurs in the framework of a joint consultative mechanism;

Substantive, because it has focused on concrete operational issues - planning, training, communication and best practices;

And broad-based, because it covers the spectrum of conflict management, from prevention to peacekeeping to post-conflict peace-building, and includes both its military and civilian components.

"I want to leave you in no doubt of how important strengthened EU capacities are to the UN. The EU is in a position to provide specialised skills that our largest troop contributors may not be able to give us, and to deploy more rapidly than we can.

"Many people are alive today because of the French-led Operation Artemis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which in turn handed over to the UN. Artemis pre-dated the Joint Declaration, but it is a model of EU co-operation with the UN, based on the primary role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security."

He said he could not leave this topic without referring to "the terrible crisis" in Sudan. "Events in Darfur have shocked the conscience of the world, and stirred memories of horrors we saw in other parts of Africa a decade ago. From the outset, the United Nations has responded to the humanitarian emergency in Darfur, as have a number of our NGO partners. But security for civilians, and for humanitarian workers, is still a major problem.

"The African Union, with the support of the Security Council, has stepped forward to lead the political and security response. I welcome the support that has been forthcoming from the EU, including the funds it has committed through the African Peace Facility.

"But let me be frank: much more help is needed. Darfur is an enormous region and a huge number of people are suffering. The humanitarian effort needs more money. And the AU needs concrete support - including logistics, equipment and financing, as well as political pressure on the parties, the government as well as the rebels. Every country and organisation that can help must do so now."

He said he appreciated "Ireland's commitment to meet its promise of providing 0.7 per cent of its GNP in overseas development assistance". Mr Annan quoted the words of "my friend" Bono of U2: "It's not about charity, it's about justice."

Ireland had made a "rich" contribution to the UN over the years. "Ireland has served with distinction on many UN bodies - including, of course, your recent tenure on the Security Council. You have strongly pursued the cause of disarmament, taken the lead in managing sanctions on the UNITA rebels in Angola, and stressed the role of civilian effort in preventing and managing crises.

"The United Nations has been blessed to have both Irish civilian police and peacekeepers serve in many of our missions."

On UN reform, he said a high-level panel was due to report in December and this would be discussed by world leaders in September next year. "It will be their responsibility to find common ground, and make bold decisions about the future of the international system, if the 21st century is to have the kind of United Nations it so desperately needs. If 2003 was a year of deep division, and 2004 has been a year of sober reflection, 2005 must be a year of bold action.

"That action must cover not only the peace and security agenda. Next year's high-level meeting in New York at UN headquarters will, in fact, be held five years after the adoption of the Millennium Declaration. World leaders will be reviewing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. Perhaps everyone here knows the eight goals by heart. But just in case some of you don't, let me remind you that they range from halving extreme poverty to halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and ensuring universal primary education - all by the target date of 2015. We have 11 years left to get there," Mr Annan said.