- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. peacekeeping chief said Thursday a record number of about 118,000 peacekeepers are currently deployed in 16 missions around the world, and he’s hoping that countries withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan will strengthen U.N. forces with their high-tech assets.

Herve Ladsous said a number of countries that left Afghanistan are already back in U.N. peacekeeping, including Ireland in the Golan Heights and the Netherlands and Sweden in Mali.

Ladsous told a news conference on the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers that the record figure will increase in the coming months when several thousand additional peacekeepers arrive in South Sudan and the U.N. starts peacekeeping duties in Central African Republic.

The Security Council has authorized 10,000 U.N. troops and 1,800 international police to take over from 5,000 African Union soldiers on Sept. 15 in the Central African Republic, where tensions between Christians and Muslims following the overthrow of a Muslim rebel government by Christian militants in December unleashed a wave of sectarian killings.

Ladsous said the government “is in a state of virtual nonexistence,” with massive killings and human rights violations continuing.

He also said China will be sending a battalion, usually about 850 troops, to join the U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan, which the Security Council increased from 7,000 military personnel to 12,500 after ethnically targeted violence broke out in December. Thousands of people have been killed, and more than 1.3 million have fled their homes.

Ladsous said fighting has continued since a second cease-fire was signed on May 9. “The political process is marking time, and we have to keep insisting that this situation has to stop,” he said.

China started making significant deployments to U.N. peacekeeping operations in 1992 and currently contributes to 10 peacekeeping operations, far more than the four other permanent members of the Security Council: the U.S., Russia, Britain and France.

In the largest U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, the Security Council has authorized the use of unarmed drones on a trial basis for intelligence gathering in the conflict-torn east - an example of the technology the U.N. wants.

Ladsous said he would like to deploy drones in countries like Mali, Central African Republic and South Sudan, saying they would make “a big difference” to U.N. operations.

“We cannot afford to continue working with 20th century tools right now in the 21st century,” he said. “We have to introduce, among other things, new technology to improve the delivery, make it more effective, and also to reduce in some cases the costs.”

Ladsous also joined Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in honoring the 3,200 U.N. peacekeepers who have lost their lives, including 106 in 2013.

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