BRITAIN'S DECISION to send a senior army officer to serve with the United Nations in Sierra Leone - and its move to deploy a naval rapid reaction force off the war-torn West African country - represent the first evidence of a wide-ranging rethink of peace- keeping in the world's trouble- spots.
Six months after 500 United Nations peace-keepers were humiliatingly disarmed and taken hostage by rebels fighting for supremacy in Sierra Leone's diamond areas, Britain yesterday announced its first high-level appointment to the country's blue- helmet force (Unamsil) when Brigadier Alastair Duncan was named as chief of staff under a new commander, the Kenyan three-star general Daniel Ishmael Opande.
The British appointment and the removal of the former commander, Major- General Vijay Jetley, from India, coupled with a United States commitment to train and supply Nigerian peace-keepers, signals an acceptance by Security Council members of the need to commit real back-up and firepower to UN efforts to end conflicts.
According to military analysts, the development also signals a recognition, by Britain and the US in particular, that the Sierra Leone conflict threatens to spread throughout west Africa. It also shows that Britain, as the former colonial power in Sierra Leone and the best-equipped player in the region, has accepted the role of acting as permanent back-up for the UN.
The changes in Sierra Leone come two months after a UN report called on Britain and the US in particular to commit themselves to making peace- keeping work or see the world body's credibility disappear for ever.
The abduction of 500 troops in Sierra Leone came after a series of humiliations, including the UN's failure to prevent Bosnian Serbs overrunning the so-called "safe haven" of Srebrenica in 1995; its powerlessness in the face of the 1994 Rwandan genocide; and the negative image it gained in the US after 18 US Marines died in Somalia in 1993. …