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Liberal government’s peacekeeping plan still ‘a work in progress’: UN official

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, speaks during a press conference at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sept. 8, 2017.

Martial Trezzini/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

While Canadian officials and the United Nations have been furiously trying to iron out the details of Canada's long-awaited peacekeeping plans, one senior UN official says no final decisions have been made — even with Vancouver playing host to a two-day summit on the subject starting Tuesday.

"It's a work in progress," Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations, said Monday in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"It looks like there are a number of avenues that have been explored quite thoroughly. But we're waiting for the Canadian government to come up with a final decision."

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't offer any details, but told reporters in Manila Tuesday at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit that an announcement will be made in Vancouver that will satisfy both Canadians at home and the United Nations.

"I'm very pleased to say that we will be announcing ... is fully in line not just with Canadian values and Canadians' desire to see our country have a maximum positive impact around the world, but fully in line with the UN and indeed, the world, has expressed its need and interest in," he said.

"Make no mistake," Trudeau continued, "Canadians expect Canada to have a strong and positive contribution that makes a real difference and the world expects Canada to make a significant contribution that makes a difference."

He said the announcement will focus on how Canada can best use its abilities and expertise to ensure "maximal positive impact, not just for Canadian contributions but for all peacekeepers."

Trudeau added that the world has "long been waiting to see Canada once again step up in the way we did all those years ago when Lester Pearson contributed to the creation of the UN peacekeeping force around the Suez Canal crisis."

The comments by Trudeau and Lacroix — who is responsible for managing all peacekeeping operations — come as the Liberal government prepares to host representatives from 80 countries at the peacekeeping summit in the B.C. city.

It was widely expected that the Liberals would announce their plans to deploy peacekeepers either before or at the summit, more than a year after promising up to 600 troops and 150 police officers for UN missions.

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While Lacroix's comments appeared to pour cold water on that idea, he also said he was "encouraged" that there is finally some movement after more than a year of delays and silence from Canada.

"Things are moving, and it's not frustrating, it's rather encouraging," he said. "Now, given the needs, I would be quite happy if the delays are rather short than long. But then again, I am quite encouraged by the latest evolution."

Sources say the government has put several offers on the table for the UN's consideration, including the deployment of helicopters to help in Mali, and a transport plane in Uganda to assist different missions in Africa.

Canada is also reportedly ready to provide a rapid-reaction force in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria; contribute to the UN's new police mission in Haiti; and send trainers to help other countries become better at peacekeeping.

Lacroix would not comment on the government's offers, but did say discussions on "when and how and where these potential contributions would be used and where they would make a difference, that's where we are."

Trudeau is scheduled to appear at the meeting Wednesday with Lacroix as well as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

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The summit is only for countries that have made — or are ready to make — concrete pledges to peacekeeping, and some UN officials, foreign diplomats and experts have warned Canada will be embarrassed if it doesn't deliver.

Yet while the Liberals have been criticized for dragging their feet on a decision for more than a year, Lacroix said the UN hasn't been sitting around waiting for Canada to make a commitment.

For example, after the government refused to commit to providing desperately needed helicopters to Mali, Jordan and Belgium are now stepping up, meaning any Canadian contribution might be delayed to 2019.

Nonetheless, said Lacroix, gaps remain and "the demand is still bigger than the supply."

Much of the focus of this week's meeting in Vancouver will be on pledges that different countries make to peacekeeping missions, as well as taking stock of previous commitments.

But the meeting will also feature discussions about ways to increase the role of women in peacekeeping and conflict-prevention, reduce the use of child soldiers, and better protect civilians.

"So how do we improve the protection of civilians in our environment? Lacroix said.

"Where we have more displaced persons. We have more people in need of humanitarian assistance and support. And we have more difficult and dangerous security environments."

- With files from Andy Blatchford in Manila

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