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UN peacekeepers must use force where needed: US envoy
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) Nov 20, 2015

NATO lifts 16-year airspace restrictions in 'new start' with Serbia
Belgrade (AFP) Nov 20, 2015 - NATO on Friday announced the lifting of restrictions over Serbian airspace as part of a "fresh new start" in relations with Belgrade, 16 years after the Western military alliance dropped bombs on the country.

On a visit to the capital, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said an 'air safety zone' over a small part of Serbia had been "fully relaxed" as of Friday.

"This means that the restrictions that have been in place since 1999 are now lifted, and this is a very concrete expression of the improved relationship between NATO and Serbia," he said.

Serbia and Kosovo fought a war in 1998 and 1999 which ended after Serbia pulled its forces from the territory following an 11-week NATO bombing campaign.

The air strikes began, without UN Security Council backing, after Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic spurned a call to end the crackdown on ethnic Albanian guerrillas fighting for the independence of the southern province.

The air-security buffer zone, established after an accord was signed to end the campaign, covered a 25-kilometre (16-mile) area from the boundary with Kosovo but was partially relaxed in 2001.

The air strikes marked NATO's first-ever major bombing campaign in Europe and remain deeply etched in the memory of Serbians despite efforts by the government to move on.

"Today I am here as a part of a fresh new start in relations between NATO and Serbia," said Stoltenberg, adding that he was aware of "sensitivities in Serbia towards the alliance".

"Our air campaign in 1999 was never against the Serbian people, it was about stopping unacceptable actions by the Milosevic regime which were condemned by the international community," he said.

The civilian death toll from the bombing has never been officially established and figures vary from 2,500 dead claimed by Serbian officials to 500 in a Human Rights Watch estimate.

"Any loss of innocent lives in 1999 was a tragedy and I deeply regret it," Stoltenberg said. He also announced the start of a new trust fund to help Serbia safely dispose of up to 2,000 tonnes of surplus ammunition.

The NATO chief said Serbia today played an important role in security-building in the Western Balkans, including by hosting thousands of refugees as they pass through the Balkans on their way to northern Europe.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a move Belgrade does not recognise.

United Nations peacekeepers have a responsibility to protect civilians where they are deployed even if that means using force, the US envoy to the world body said Friday during a visit to India, one of the biggest troop contributors.

Samantha Power said UN peacekeepers could not "simply stand by as atrocities are committed," as many had in the past, and that a failure to act had likely led to thousands of civilian deaths.

New Delhi has expressed open resistance to the move towards a more robust UN force, saying its understanding of peacekeeping does not include combat.

"We should also expect that peacekeepers in volatile situations use force when needed to defend themselves, to protect civilians or to otherwise carry out their mandate as authorised by the Security Council," said Power.

While these requirements already existed, she said, cases where peacekeepers fulfilled them remained "more the exception than the rule".

Power was speaking on a visit to India, which is currently the third-largest troop provider to the UN's 16 missions worldwide, with Indian peacekeepers in South Sudan, Western Sahara and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She cited a report by the US internal oversight office in March last year that found in 507 attacks against civilians from 2010 to 2013, peacekeepers "virtually never used force to protect those coming under attack".

"Thousands of civilians likely lost their lives as a result," she said.

"This cannot go on, not for the institution of peacekeeping and certainly not for the people the blue helmets are entrusted with protecting," she added, describing the troops' trademark headgear.

Power also condemned recent instances of alleged abuse by UN peacekeepers including in the Central African Republic.

The UN mission in CAR has been hit by 13 cases of alleged sexual abuse by its peacekeepers, including nine that involve underage victims as young as 11.

The nationalities of the troops involved have not been revealed.

Power's message came after more than 50 countries pledged 40,000 troops for UN peacekeeping at a US-led summit.

US President Barack Obama told leaders at the September summit that peace operations were "experiencing unprecedented strains" and deployed in "more difficult and deadlier conflicts".

The pledges represented a major boost to UN peacekeeping, which relies on voluntary contributions.

Most are from poorer countries -- Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and Rwanda are currently the top five troop-contributing nations to peace missions.

Power will head to Sri Lanka on Saturday to meet senior officials in the new government on the second leg of her visit to the region.

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