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The Associated Press March 10, 2010, 12:15PM ET

Gabon president ties UN peace costs to climate

Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba said Tuesday that world leaders can reduce the costs of U.N. peacekeeping by doing more to prevent armed conflicts, notably through adopting long-range plans to reduce climate change.

Ali Bongo used a speech to the International Peace Institute to highlight conflict prevention, which he called the focus of his nation's presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month.

But he also emphasized that a warming planet, facing the prospect of rising seas, melting glaciers and more drought, "contributes to increasing poverty and instability in the world. We must quickly act. In that regard, we call on all the governments to adopt long-term strategies in order to stop ... global warming."

As of Tuesday, China and India had joined more than 100 countries saying they wanted to be "associated" with the Copenhagen climate accord calling for voluntary limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Gabon is among those, but told the U.N. last month it has "not yet completed the technical work need to make a firm commitment" on its own long-range climate actions.

Gabon, as the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, contributes to the fossil-fuel burning blamed for the rise of heat-trapping atmospheric gases, but has pronounced fighting climate change a priority, in part because of the tropical rainforests that cover four-fifths of the nation.

"Today the world is facing the threat of a new source of conflicts," Ali Bongo told a mostly diplomatic crowd of about 200 people that included U.N. ambassadors from several African nations. "Global warming has an impact not only on the environment, the health of man and the economy, but also on the stability and security of states."

Speaking in French and English, the son of Gabon's late dictator, who won a contested presidential election last year, has been using his standing on the 15-nation council to raise his oil-rich nation's profile. The former French colony in central Africa, with a population of 1.5 million, has a non-permanent council seat through 2011.

At a meeting Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington, Ali Bongo vowed Gabon would "become an emerging country" that fights corruption and offered to help with the U.S.-led push in Security Council for further U.N. sanctions on Iran.

"So we are going to work closely because our aim is not just to punish. Our aim is to help assist, and we want to do that. But it has to be the same will on both sides, if I may say so," he told a joint news conference with Clinton.

On Tuesday, Ali Bongo declared that "at a time when the U.N. is rethinking its approach to produce a real prevention culture, my ambition is to offer to contribute to any conflict prevention strategy it intends to develop. The time has come for us to go from theory to action."

He noted that the council agreed last month to try to avoid creating more costly peacekeeping missions that never seem to end. The U.N. peacekeeping budget has risen to $7.8 billion a year, and some missions now reach back more than a half-century. Others have operated since the 1960s and 1970s, including the "interim" force in Lebanon, created in 1978.

There are now almost 116,000 personnel serving on 17 peace operations on four continents, an eight-fold increase in U.N. peacekeeping since a decade ago, according to U.N. figures.

"Setting up an efficient early warning mechanism could allow to solve this issue," Ali Bongo said.

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