Canadian peacekeeping is changing as Ottawa backs away from open-ended missions
'EARLY IN, EARLY OUT'
CANADA AND THE WORLD
Canadian peacekeeping is changing as Ottawa backs away from open-ended missions
Children playing in the rubble of Zalambessa, a once-thriving border town 600 km north of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, dash from behind a fallen building. They then disappear into the dust that a Canadian armoured patrol vehicle is kicking high into the dry air, only to re-emerge laughing and waving at the heavily armed soldiers of a rifle battalion
known as Hotel Company. As long as the Canadian peacekeepers are around, the children are free to enjoy the fragile truce between their nation and neighbouring Eritrea. Their parents especially appreciate the presence of the blue-helmeted soldiers and often invite them into their
bombed-out homes for tea. “Without the Canadians, there would be no peace,” said Berhane Bulutz, 48, a businessman living in Zalambessa, which Eritreans levelled with bulldozers. “I just wish they could stay here for good.”
His wish will go unanswered. Some of the Canadians who arrived in East Africa last fall have already returned home; the rest will follow by the end of July. Their sixmonth assignment to preserve the ceasefire between Ethiopia and breakaway Eritrea is one example of what Canada has planned for future peacekeeping missions. For more
than 50 years, Canadian peacekeepers have been cooling down hot spots around the world, sometimes remaining for decades to monitor ceasefires between warring factions—and in the process earning an unparalleled reputation among the United Nations’ global cops. Now, however, Ottawa says it can no longer afford the cost of open-ended commitments to peacekeeping. Under its new “early-in, early-out” policy, troops will assess and stabilize a truce before handing the mission over to less-experienced forces from other countries. The department of national defence will also start annual assessments of how long each mission should last. Traditional open-ended peacekeeping, says Maj.-Gen. Cameron Ross, the defence departments director general of international security policy, “is history. We’re living within our budget because we have to.”
Canadian troops, for example, have been in Cyprus since 1964, pa-
trolling a ceasefire strip between the Turks and Greeks. Ottawa finally pulled most of the soldiers out in 1993, but two still remain on the Mediterranean island. “What were trying to do is get the best return on our investment,” said Ross. “More bang for the buck, for lack
of a better term.”
The change has drawn mixed reactions.
Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie, the popular and outspoken former first UN commander in Sarajevo, in then-Yugoslavia, said the policy will at least
reflect the nation’s capabilities. But at the same time, MacKenzie said, UN officials are disappointed by the diminished enthusiasm for peacekeeping among Western countries, including Canada.
'WE’RE TRYING TO GET MORE BANG FOR THE BUCK, FOR LACK OF A BETTER TERM’
UN peacekeeping mission between 1992 and 1995, sending a total of 44,870 peacekeepers to the Balkans.
For the 450-strong Canadian task force, the Ethiopian assignment has added significance—it’s a prime opportunity to help restore the image of Cana-
dian peacekeeping in Africa after a string of headline-making disasters.
By far the worst was the 1994 massacre in Rwanda of 800,000 Tutsi tribal members by the Hutu-dominated government. Three
months before the bloodletting began, Canadian Maj.-Gen Romeo Dallaire, who headed an understaffed UN mission in Rwanda, had warned UN headquarters in New York City that the slaughter ap-
However, David Rudd of Toronto, the executive director with the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, said the new policy has a certain logic. But, he added, “we must acknowledge that the early-out part of the plan could saddle other people with problems that they may not be able to handle.”
Canada’s first involvement in a UN mission was sending two observers to Korea in 1947. The nation mounted its largest
peared to be imminent. He was ignored. Dallaire was so devastated by the experience that he retired from the army in April, 2000, and has undergone treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
But it was the murder of a single African teenager the year before the Rwandan debacle that stunned Canadians and demoralized the armed forces. Troopers of the Canadian Airborne Regiment on UN duty in Somalia tortured and beat to death 16-year-old Shidane
Since 1947. more than 100.000 Canadian troops have served in more than 40 separate UN observer and peacekeeping missions. In chronological order:
MIDDLE EAST INDIA. PAKISTAN
WEST NEW GUINEA
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC EGYPT. ISRAEL SYRIA (GOLAN) AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN IRAN, IRAQ CENTRAL AMERICA NAMIBIA HAITI
ANGOLA CAMBODIA EL SALVADOR IRAQ. KUWAIT IRAQ
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC KOSOVO EAST TIMOR SIERRA LEONE ETHIOPIA. ERITREA
Arone when they caught him trying to steal material from their camp. The government dismantled the regiment, but only one of the nine soldiers court-martialled in the incident was ultimately convicted of manslaughter.
Canada has since sent observers to other African hot spots, including Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But with 450 Canadian personnel on the ground, Ethiopia marks a significant return to Africa. Master Warrant Officer Ernie Hall, at 40, is on his fifth UN assignment. He was a member of the
Airborne regiment but did not serve in Somalia. Arone’s killers, Hall said, “were criminals who just hadn’t been caught.” He added: “The murder left a black mark on Canadian peacekeeping that will never go away. But this is a chance to put it right.”
War was not on the horizon when Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Because of their shared history and the cordial relationship between their leaders, the two countries had never bothered to formally mark the boundary between them. But, in 1998,
they suddenly went to war over the border region of Badme. The Ethiopians, thousands of whom died in human-wave assaults, had by last June pushed Eritrean forces deep inside their own territory. Under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity Plan, the two sides agreed to make peace, and part of the deal was the creation of a buffer zone to be patrolled by international peacekeepers.
The Canadians and a Dutch battalion control the mountainous, dusty central sector of a 300-km-long security zone 25 km deep. When they first arrived, says Hall, the opposing armies were facing each other, entrenched in bunkers 300 m apart. “I expected a lot of shooting, but there hasn’t been any,” Hall said. Unlike Somalia and Rwanda, where it was impossible to distinguish one faction from another, he said, “these are two disciplined armies from sovereign states.”
Still, the Canadians take no chances. Backed by 20 light-armoured vehicles, they move along pot-holed roads, sometimes on foot, watching for troop movements and frisking civilians for weapons. “We’re here to make sure both sides stick to the agreement,” said Master Cpl. Pat Whalen of Walford, Ont. Master Cpl. Raymond Berthelot, 31, of Sudbury, Ont., said that when the Canadians go into a village, “the local population knows we have no ethnic ties to one side or the other.” Added Berthelot, a Bosnia veteran: “They’re very friendly. These people just want to get back to life.”
There remains lots to do before tensions diminish. Some 750,000 Eritreans are waiting for the day when they can return home. Civil administrators and local police wait as well. Another challenge confronted by UN forces wherever they have gone: landmines. An estimated 500,000 lie buried in the two countries.
For the Canadians in Ethiopia, it’s all in a day’s work. “It’s great to put the training into practice,” said Pte. Daniel MacIntyre, 24, of Cardigan, P.E.I. It’s a job that Hall, like many others, believes Canadians are ideally suited to perform. “We have strong values and decency,” he says. “That makes it easy for us to accept our international responsibility.” But with Ottawa’s new early-in, early-out policy, that responsibility will seem very different in the years to come.
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