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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeeping has surged to 93,000 troops, police and civilian personnel in 18 operations around the world, the most ever in the history of the world body, a U.N. official said on Wednesday.
But this figure, which includes nearly 70,000 military personnel, could jump to 140,000 within a year, Jean-Marie Guehenno, the undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, told a news conference.
For example, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, now at 3,437, is authorized for up to 11,596 personnel and another 1,054 troops and 1,608 civilians are scheduled to go to Timor.
And if the Khartoum government ever gives its consent, the U.N. Security Council has authorized 17,300 troops, 5,300 police and 4,860 civilians to help stop atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region.
The peacekeeping budget until from mid-2006 to mid-2007 has mushroomed to $4.75 billion and is estimated to climb to $6 billion. The largest current operation is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with some 21,000 personnel, followed by Ethiopia-Eritrea with 17,000.
But Guehenno said that without efforts toward development and reconciliation, peace can collapse when troops leave or the operation cannot wind down because combatants have few alternatives to war.
"Sometimes I am concerned about the political overstretch," he said. "How can the international community be focused at once to address so many important issues?"
Another problem are the many civilian vacancies, often as high as a third, among those who rotate in and out of the field and do not find a proper job at U.N. headquarters.
Guehenno is still hoping the General Assembly will approve management reforms proposed by Secretary-general Kofi Annan, who wants to convert 2,500 short-term peacekeeping positions into a new mobile corps of specialists capable of being sent rapidly on urgent missions.
Many civilians monitoring the peacekeepers or working on human rights or development are confined to one narrow occupational group, stifling possibilities for advancement and redeployment elsewhere.
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