Channel NewsAsia

UN calls for wider use of surveillance drones

United Nations peacekeeping missions should deploy more drones and state-of the art technology to become more effective, limit boots on the ground and keep aid workers safer, their chief said.

UNITED NATIONS, United States: United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions should deploy more drones and state-of the art technology to become more effective, limit boots on the ground and keep aid workers safer, their chief said on Thursday.

On the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, staff paid tribute to more than 3,000 peacekeepers who have died since 1948, including 106 last year, and to those still serving on the frontline.

The head of UN peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, said that a peacekeeper died on average once every three days in 2013, and that technology needs to be upgraded to assist a record number of UN boots on the ground.

The Security Council last month approved a new mission in the Central African Republic and in December voted to send an extra 5,500 soldiers to war-torn South Sudan.

"Clearly we cannot continue to afford to work with 20th century tools in the 21st century," Ladsous told reporters in New York.

He said drones had already helped in the Democratic Republic of Congo and could be vital in improving humanitarian access.

"They (convoys) can use the images of the machines to make sure they are not going to be attacked or hijacked on the way. That, I think, is a very significant development," Ladsous said.

"We do need them (drones) in countries like Mali, like Central African Republic and clearly in South Sudan it would be my desire that we might deploy them," he said.

Surveillance drones could replace some military observers and make a big difference.

"In some cases using technology can make it necessary not to have so many boots on the ground and also, lets never forget, to improve on the delivery," Ladsous said.

Ladsous expressed hope that the quickening departure of Western troops from Afghanistan could see more European Union and NATO countries take part in UN peacekeeping missions.

"This is an opportunity for them to come back or move into United Nations peacekeeping, especially with high-tech assets, state of the art equipment... that could make the difference."

He pointed to Ireland, in the Golan Heights, and the Netherlands and Sweden, in Mali, as examples of European Union (EU) and NATO countries who had also served in Afghanistan.

Ameerah Haq, head of field support, told reporters that fuel-efficient cars, solar power, night-vision capabilities and tethered balloons would also be useful.

"What gives the best capability to the troops? And if that is technology then certainly we want to study to see what is in our means to deploy," she said.

Haq said UN peacekeepers were more at risk than ever.

"We are facing the specific targeting of peacekeepers and also we are seeing the merging of conflict and international criminal activities," she said.

Ladsous singled out the UN missions in Darfur and South Sudan as the deadliest in 2013.

He also expressed frustration about the extra 5,500 troops approved for South Sudan being "too slow" to deploy.

"The ceasefire is not really implemented. The political process is marking time and of course we have to keep insisting that this situation has to stop," he said.

In Darfur, he said violence was also on the rise, with another 300,000 people internally displaced since the end of last year - the same number as during the whole of 2013.

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia