Friday, September 9, 2016

Canada to host Defence Ministers Summit on Peacekeeping

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch

Canada will host a summit of defence ministers to discuss peacekeeping as it continues its strategy to play more of a role in United Nations operations.

But Conservative MPs are criticizing the Liberal government for continuing to keep Canadians in the dark on where and when Canadian troops and police will be headed to on such missions.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, currently in the United Kingdom to attend a UN defence ministers’ conference, said Canada will be taking a leadership role in such missions. Canada, he noted in a conference call with journalists Thursday, will host next year’s ministerial summit.

But Sajjan noted that no decisions have been made yet on the UN operations that Canada will take part in.

“We are at the early stages of getting the information,” he said. “Our military teams are still doing their work.”

Sajjan noted he hopes to have such details ready by the end of the year.

The Peacekeeping Monument, background, is photographed in Ottawa Monday, August 15, 2016, just one of the things you may see on a walk along MacKenzie Ave. from the Chateau Laurier to the Peacekeeping Monument.   (Darren Brown/Postmedia)

But Conservative MP James Bezan, the official opposition’s defence critic, said Sajjan should have used the UN conference to provide details about the peacekeeping strategy. “Before sending any Canadian Armed Forces personnel to war zones, Canadians expect to know when, where and why our troops are being deployed,” Bezan said at a news conference Thursday in Ottawa.

Bezan noted that such missions could “place Canadian troops in some of the most dangerous regions in the world” and that the public is entitled to more details.

The Liberal government recently announced it would free up 600 Canadian military personnel and more than 100 police for possible deployment on United Nations peace operations.

Sajjan wrapped up a fact-finding mission to Africa in mid-August, having visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

A military team has also been sent to Mali to collect information and the Canadian government has been considering participating in the UN operation in that country. That mission currently involves around 10,000 soldiers taking part in an effort to stabilize Mali. Various armed groups, including Islamic insurgents, have been conducting sporadic attacks in that country.

The mission in Mali is considered among the most dangerous now being conducted by the UN.

The Canadian Army will also be sending troops to Niger to conduct training for that country’s soldiers.

A small team of Canadian special forces soldiers is currently handling the training of Niger’s military personnel. They will continue that role in the fall, working alongside Canadian Army staff as they set the stage to hand over responsibility for the training to the regular forces.

The UN summit in the United Kingdom over the last several days brought together defence ministers and senior officials from nearly 80 countries to discuss how to improve the UN’s ability to conduct operations and nations contributions to such missions.

At the conference, Sajjan said a strategy for lasting peace has to focus on eliminating the factors that contributed to war in the first place. He pointed specifically to the issue of preventing the recruitment of child soldiers, something the future stability of Africa depends on.

“We know that child soldiers, for instance, represent a near endless supply of fighters for radical groups bent on exploiting them,” he explained at the conference. “In some African nations, the population under 25 years is nearly 60 per cent. Not only are these youth the most vulnerable victims of conflict, they are the very fuel that powers the militias who enslave them.”

He noted that youth in Africa have to be provided with economic opportunity.

Police officers must also be integrated in peace support missions, as will other trained professionals focused on the prevention of sexual violence and human rights abuses, Sajjan added.

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