May 30th, 2006 05:45 EST
International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers
The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers was marked across the world today as observances were held to honour those serving in UN operations while paying tribute to the memory of those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace.
In his message on the Day, Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that more peacekeepers died in the service of the UN in 2005 than in any other year in the past decade, with 124 peacekeepers from 46 countries losing their lives to violence, disease and accidents.
A further 32 have fallen in the line of duty so far in 2006, including eight Guatemalan soldiers who died while striving to bring peace to the troubled eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he noted.
At the same time, the number of peacekeepers exposed to risk has increased exponentially. More than 72,000 uniformed personnel and 15,000 civilians now serve in 18 peace operations administered by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, making the United Nations the largest multilateral contributor to post-conflict stabilization worldwide, according to the message.
"The demand for United Nations peacekeeping reflects growing confidence in the Organization's ability to calm tensions and restore stability," Mr. Annan said, noting that 108 countries now contribute uniformed personnel, including a 71-nation mission in the Sudan -- the most diverse coalition ever assembled.
General Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden said that over the decades of UN peacekeeping, "countless lives have been saved thanks to the bravery" of UN personnel.
"Invariably, the presence of blue helmets has eased tensions, spurred progress and sent an important signal to the affected populations that the United Nations supports their efforts to restore peace in their country," he said.
"Even as we mourn our fallen colleagues, we are all uplifted by their unflinching commitment and are inspired to strive even harder for t
collective cause so eloquently envisaged in the UN Charter: a world free from the scourge of war," the President said.
Among the events held to mark the Day, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) organized a solemn wreath-laying ceremony with the participation of Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Alan Doss.
To demonstrate UNMIL's support towards the recovery and development of Liberia, peacekeepers deployed throughout the country took part in a number of activities, including free medical camps for local communities, as well as cleaning up and painting school buildings, side walks, community centres, health centres and local markets, and rehabilitating roads and bridges.
Wielding a broom himself at a high school in Monrovia, Mr. Doss encouraged Liberians to play an active role in the recovery and development of their country. "Liberians have a collective and individual responsibility to keep their city clean and contribute towards the development of the country in every way possible," he said.
Meanwhile in Vienna, a formal military ceremony signaled the beginning of the event attended by the Austrian Chief of Defence Staff, General Roland Ertl, and a contingent of some 40 peacekeepers from the Austrian Armed Forces who are about to go on mission to the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights.
Commemorative medals from the UN Association of Austria were also presented to Austrian peacekeepers by the Vice-President of the UN Association of Austria and former Foreign Minister, Willibald Pahr, along with General Ertl and the President of the Austrian Blue Helmets Association, General Greindl.
UN Peacekeepers' Day was established in 2002, when the General Assembly adopted a resolution designating 29 May -- when in 1948 the UN set up its Truce Supervision Organization in the Middle East -- as the date to pay tribute to all blue helmets.
The Day will be commemorated on 31 May at UN Headquarters, because 29 May is an official holiday this ye
be awarded posthumously to military, police and civilian personnel (both international and national staff) who lost their lives serving in UN peacekeeping operations.