Under US pressure, UN agrees on deep cuts to peacekeeping

By Carole LANDRY
Africa The UN has more than 15,000 peacekeepers operating in Democratic Republic of Congo who are part of the MONUSCO force.  By Eduardo Soteras AFPFile
JUN 28, 2017 LISTEN
The UN has more than 15,000 peacekeepers operating in Democratic Republic of Congo who are part of the MONUSCO force. By Eduardo Soteras (AFP/File)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - A tentative deal on nearly $600 million in cuts to the UN peacekeeping budget has been reached following weeks of tough negotiations over US demands for sharp cost reductions, UN diplomats said Wednesday.

The United Nations will spend $7.3 billion on peacekeeping in the coming year, down from the current budget of $7.87 billion -- roughly a seven percent cut -- according to diplomats familiar with the negotiations.

The United States, the biggest financial contributor to the peacekeeping budget, had sought a nearly $1 billion cut to the bill and the European Union had also pushed for savings to bring costs down to $7.3 billion.

Negotiators clinched the budget deal at 4:30 am Wednesday after marathon talks.

Hardest hit by the cuts will be the UN missions in Sudan's troubled region of Darfur and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the two costliest operations with budgets that run over $1 billion.

A Security Council diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said however there will be "cuts across the board" in the 13 peacekeeping missions as a result of US pressure to scale back the budget.

Washington pays 28.5 percent of the peacekeeping budget and 22 percent of the UN's core budget of $5.4 billion.

The deal falls short of the request from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who had asked for $7.97 billion for the annual budget which runs from July 1 to June 30 of next year.

The deal is expected to be approved by the UN General Assembly on Friday.

Big cuts to Darfur mission

The Security Council is expected to vote as early as Thursday on significant cuts to the 17,000-strong joint African Union-UN mission in Darfur known as UNAMID.

Britain on Wednesday circulated a draft resolution that provides for a two-stage drawdown over the next 12 months, in line with the recommendations of a joint AU-UN report released last month.

The measure would cut UNAMID force levels to reach 8,735 troops and 2,500 police by June 2018, a 44 percent cut in military personnel and nearly 30 percent in police, according to the draft text obtained by AFP.

The drawdown could be halted if the Sudanese government fails to ensure protection in those areas from where the peacekeepers will withdraw.

Under the proposed measure, Guterres will report to the council after six months on whether "conditions on the ground remain conducive to further reductions."

The draft resolution welcomes a "reduction in military confrontations between government forces and rebel groups," but rights groups maintain that the conflict in Darfur is far from over.

Human Rights Watch has criticized the proposed cuts as "misguided," saying civilians in Darfur still need protection.

Darfur has been engulfed in conflict since 2003, when ethnic minority insurgents mounted a rebellion against President Omar al-Bashir, complaining that his Arab-dominated government was marginalizing the region.

The United Nations has shut down its mission in Ivory Coast and is planning to pull its peacekeepers out of Haiti in the coming months.

The council is expected to vote this week on the UN mission in Mali, but that peace operation is not expected to face drastic cuts.