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Korea pledges to dispatch more military engineers

South Korean President Park Geun-hye pledged Monday to dispatch additional military engineers to conflict zones at the U.N. leaders’ summit on peacekeeping, joining other countries’ promises to boost their contributions for missions under growing strain.

“They will be assisting reconstruction and humanitarian activities in conflict zones,” Park said at the event attended by some 50 heads of state and cochaired by U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“Korean peacekeepers have long been guided by the belief that genuine peace stems from the minds of people; hence, their distinctive focus on cementing bonds with local communities, whether in Lebanon, Haiti, South Sudan or elsewhere. This is an approach that’s been widely well-received,” Park added.

There are currently about 630 Korean soldiers stationed in such conflict zones.

Park said that Korea would strengthen partnerships with regional organizations as well, through such plans as providing deployable level-two hospital equipment through the African Union to enhance peacekeeping capacity in Africa.

Korea will also steadily scale up the financial contributions to support the U.N.’s conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities, Park said at the meeting, which was also attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“This would be fitting, given Korea’s presidency of ECOSOC and its presence in the Peace Building Commission.”

Upon the summit, President Obama’s administration announced that more than 50 countries had pledged to contribute more than 40,000 new troops and police to serve in some of the world’s most volatile areas.

Obama’s presence at Monday’s meeting, shortly before his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of an annual U.N. gathering of world leaders, was the latest sign of high-level U.S. interest in the issue.

Obama told leaders that peace operations were “experiencing unprecedented strain” and were being deployed in “more difficult and deadlier conflicts.”

“We know that peace operations are not the solution to every problem,” Obama told the summit held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

“But they do remain one of the world’s most important tools to address armed conflict,” he said.

Putin was the only leader of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which approves peacekeeping missions, who was absent.

For months, officials such as the U.S. military’s top officer and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power have pressed countries, especially European nations, to contribute more. European countries contributed more than 40 percent of U.N. peacekeepers two decades ago but now provide less than 7 percent.

The high-level meeting was aimed at strengthening and modernizing peacekeeping operations, whose nearly 125,000 personnel increasingly face threats from extremist groups while being severely stretched in personnel and equipment. Deployments to crises can take several months.

And a series of sexual abuse allegations against peacekeepers has brought new concerns about a long-standing problem that Obama called “an affront to human decency.”

The U.N. has no standing army, meaning that it is up to the U.N.’s 193 member states to supply people and equipment.

Monday’s pledges of new troops and police significantly exceed the 10,000 goal that U.S. officials had mentioned. In addition, the dozens of leaders from India, Britain and China and elsewhere said they would contribute the kinds of more sophisticated equipment the U.N.’s 16 peacekeeping missions say they need: Special forces, intelligence units, engineering skills, airlift capacity, field hospitals and even unarmed drones.

Overall, countries pledged more than 40 helicopters, 15 engineering companies and 10 field hospitals, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, announced at the end of the meeting.

Obama said the U.S., which contributes less than 100 troops and police, will contribute $2 million for training of African forces for peacekeeping and $2 million for training on countering improvised explosive devices, among other support.

The United States and European countries have pulled back from peacekeeping operations over the past decades after disastrous losses of soldiers as happened in Somalia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping made perhaps the largest commitment, saying his country would establish a permanent 8,000-strong rapid deployment force to respond to crises anywhere in the world and to provide $100 million to fund a similar force under the African Union.

In addition, Xi said China would furnish more helicopters and other equipment and provide funding, training and equipment for 10 mine-clearing operations. 

Other announcements included Britain committing 250 to 300 troops to the U.N. mission in South Sudan, drones and a signal communications unit from Pakistan, an infantry battalion and a helicopter from Italy and engineering support or personnel from South Korea, Japan and Sri Lanka.

Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Pakistan and Rwanda are currently the top five nations in terms of troop contributions to peace missions.

By Cho Chung-un and news reports (