UN criticises Kazakhstan over unauthorised blue peacekeeper helmet use

Blue helmets are a symbol of UN peacekeeping, and there are rules about when they can be worn

Kazakhstan soldiers wearing UN blue peacekeeping helmets select flash grenades as they prepare to stop protesters in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Thursday, January  6, 2022.  NUR. KZ via AP
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The United Nations has criticised Kazakhstan over photos showing armed personnel wearing the world body’s iconic blue helmets during last week’s violence and a crackdown on protests that left more than 160 people dead.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Monday said the UN had complained to Kazakhstan’s diplomatic outpost in New York about the apparent use of UN peacekeeping equipment and said the issue “had been addressed”.

Over the weekend, journalists posted photos on social media showing troops on Kazakhstan’s streets wearing UN blue helmets – which are only allowed to be worn by peacekeepers operating under a UN Security Council mandate.

A Kazakhstan soldier patrol a street after clashes in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Jan.  6, 2022.  Kazakhstan's president authorized security forces on Friday to shoot to kill those participating in unrest, opening the door for a dramatic escalation in a crackdown on anti-government protests that have turned violent.  The Central Asian nation this week experienced its worst street protests since gaining independence from the Soviet Union three decades ago, and dozens have been killed in the tumult. (Vladimir Tretyakov/NUR. KZ via AP)

“Any UN troop and police contributing countries are to use UN insignia only when they are performing their mandated tasks as UN peacekeepers,” Mr Dujarric said in answer to a question from The National.

“We have conveyed our concern to the permanent mission of Kazakhstan directly on this issue, and we've received assurances from them that this issue had been addressed.”

Kazakhstan’s UN mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The blue helmet worn by UN peacekeepers symbolises perhaps the best-known function of the world body. The UN has more than 86,000 personnel from 121 countries deployed in a dozen missions in the world’s hotspots.

According to UN data, Kazakhstan contributes to UN missions, with 16 service people deployed at the end of October. They are allowed to wear official UN peacekeeping gear only when operating under a UN mandate.

Protesters took the streets of Almaty and elsewhere in Kazakhstan on January 2 over fuel price hikes, but demonstrations quickly morphed into broader complaints about corruption and discontent with the authoritarian government.

The government revoked the fuel price increase and the ministerial cabinet resigned, but order was not restored until troops from Russia and other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) deployed to Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev blamed "terrorists" for the violence and authorised a shoot-to-kill order for police and the military to restore order.

Nearly 8,000 people were detained across the country, Kazakhstan's Interior Ministry said on Monday.

Updated: January 11, 2022, 7:08 AM
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