(LEAD) S. Korea-hosted U.N. PKO forum kicks off

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with start of conference)
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Dec. 7 (Yonhap) — A South Korea-hosted U.N. peacekeeping ministerial forum got under way Tuesday, designed to solidify the global community’s collective commitment to sustainable peace in conflict-laden parts of the world.

The two-day 2021 Seoul UN Peacekeeping Ministerial comes as Seoul has steadily pushed to foster lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula and embrace a greater role in global efforts to stabilize volatile regions in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.

Under the main theme of “Technology and Medical Capacity Building,” the gathering brought together foreign and defense ministers, and other officials from more than 150 countries as well as those from related international organizations, according to Seoul’s foreign and defense ministries.

Three U.N. under-secretary-generals handling peace operations, operational support and management strategy — Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Atul Khare and Catherine Pollard, respectively — attended the gathering in person.

It marks the first time for an Asian country to host the high-level PKO forum, which was launched in 2016 as a follow-up to the 2015 U.N. peacekeeping summit. The previous ministerial sessions took place in Britain in 2016, Canada in 2017 and at the U.N. in 2019.

At the opening ceremony, Seoul’s Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Defense Minister Suh Wook, the co-hosts of the meeting, were set to deliver congratulatory remarks. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also planned to deliver a video message.

Then will come key sessions on four major themes: sustaining peace; partnerships, training and capacity building; performance and accountability; and protection of civilians and safety and security.

The themes are core parts of the Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, which Guterres presented in 2018 to call for the international community to exert greater efforts to strengthen PKO operations.

Chung will lead the first session, during which ministerial or vice-ministerial officials from 20 countries, including Britain, China and India, are set to announce their respective commitments to PKO operations in video speeches.

During the second session, Suh will deliver a keynote speech detailing South Korea’s contribution plans, such as its decision to offer more than a dozen helicopters to the PKO mission.

The third and fourth sessions, slated for Wednesday, will be led by Pollard and Lacroix, respectively.

The sessions are to be livestreamed on YouTube and U.N. Web TV.

The Seoul gathering was initially set to proceed in an in-person format, but South Korea decided later to hold it virtually amid growing fears of the omicron COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa.

The conference coincides with South Korea’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of its accession into the U.N. The two Koreas concurrently joined the world body on Sept. 17, 1991.

Two years after its entry into the U.N., South Korea sent a military unit to Somalia in 1993 on its first peacekeeping mission. As of August, 520 South Korean people are serving in five U.N. PKO missions, including in Lebanon and South Sudan.

Troops attend a send-off ceremony before their departure to join the Dongmyeong Unit, a South Korean contingent operating as part of U.N. peacekeeping operations in Lebanon, on April 16, 2021, in this photo provided by the unit. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)