File Photo: UN peacekeepers stand guard in the northern town of Kouroume, Mali, May 13, 2015. (Xinhua/REUTERS)
UNITED NATIONS, June 1 (Xinhua) -- United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that UN peacekeeping saves and improves lives for millions of people.
"When the right strategies, resources and political support are in place, United Nations peacekeeping saves and improves lives for millions of people," said the UN chief at the wreath-laying ceremony for the fallen military, police and civilian peacekeepers.
"Since UN peacekeeping opened its first mission 70 years ago, more than 3,700 military, police and civilian peacekeepers have lost their lives. They include 132 from 37 countries last year," he said, adding that "these peacekeepers gave their lives to protect the lives of others. We are forever in their debt, and they are always in our hearts."
Noting that last year saw the highest number of fatalities in peace operations "as a result of malicious acts, the highest in many years," the UN chief said that "the United Nations flag no longer offers protection to peacekeepers, and defining activity of multilateralism is more and more dangerous for the brave women and men who serve as peacekeepers."
The secretary-general highly commended the great contributions of UN peace operations to world peace.
"The past year has also demonstrated the value of our peacekeeping missions. The closure of two of them in Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia, is a landmark on the road to peace and stability in a region that was once in chaos," he said.
The UN chief also recalled his recent visit to the UN Mission in Mali, one of the most dangerous missions.
"I was deeply impressed by the important work they are doing, and the many challenges they face. Threatened by terrorists, criminals and armed groups of all kinds, they are helping to build peace, to protect civilians and guarantee the political process," he said.
"They are demonstrating the same courage, dedication, service and sacrifice as their comrades in the other 13 UN peacekeeping missions," he said.
"Peacekeeping losses have risen dramatically in recent years," he added.
"In response, we are now implementing new measures to improve the safety and security of peacekeepers," said Guterres.
"We are already seeing a positive impact on the ground. While attacks continue in Mali and the Central African Republic, our ability to defend ourselves and doing that, to defend our mandates and the people we care for, have improved," he said.
The UN chief expressed the hope to see "further improvements in safety," adding that protecting UN peacekeepers enables them to protect the civilians they serve.
"We are also working with member states to provide better equipment and training for the women and men sent by the international community into harm's way," he said.
In concluding, he expressed his gratitude to the sacrifice made by the families and friends of all the peacekeepers, "especially of those who did not return home."
"Today, as we honor the memory of our fallen peacekeepers, we recommit to carrying forward their mission for a better future," he added.
This year, the UN celebrates the 70th anniversary of UN peacekeeping, a unique and dynamic instrument to help countries torn by conflict transition to lasting peace.
While the International Day of United Nations Peacekeeper's Day is May 29, the UN headquarters in New York celebrated it this year on June 1. The secretary-general presided over the wreath-laying ceremony in honor of all peacekeepers who have lost their lives while serving under the UN flag.