United Nations Secretary-General urges 1-year extension of UN office in Sierra Leone where challenges remain

(un.org) - Sierra Leone "continues to make progress in its peacebuilding efforts" but still faces major challenges in rebuilding, particularly ahead of next year's elections, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today, as he called for the mandate of the UN integrated office to be extended until December 2007.

In his latest report on the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), which covers the past three months, Mr. Annan also recommended that the Security Council approve the temporary increase of UNIOSIL's military and police components by 15 officers to assist in the July presidential and parliamentary polls, reports Trend.

"While Sierra Leone continues to make progress in its peacebuilding efforts, the country still faces major challenges and will need the sustained support of the international community for the foreseeable future," he said, referring to the reconstruction needed after the brutal and disastrous civil war of the 1990s.

"I also recommend that the Security Council approve the increase of the strength of the UNIOSIL Military Liaison Team by 5 additional officers and that of the Police Section by 10 additional police officers," he said, calling for a 12-month extension, through the end of 2007.

Describing next year's elections as a "major milestone," Mr. Annan also called for a comprehensive assessment of the role of UNIOSIL closer to the polls, to decide when to withdraw the operation.

He said that over the past three months the security situation, although still fragile, had remained stable, and he also said the country was continuing to move forward in terms of human rights but "progress in the area of economic and social rights remains limited."

"The most serious threats to the tenuous stability in the country continued to be related to the high level of youth unemployment, the poor social and economic conditions of the people, and the general public perception of the Government's mismanagement of public resources," Mr. Annan stated.

He also highlighted the need for "considerable" support from Sierra Leone's international partners to ensure the success of the elections, describing as a "major concern" a $7 million electoral budget shortfall. Member States should help to close this funding gap, he said.

Mr. Annan also urged the Government to work closely with the UN's Peacebuilding Commission, particularly after its decision in October to declare Sierra Leone eligible to benefit from the recently set-up multi-million dollar Peacebuilding Fund, which is aimed at assisting countries emerging from conflict to rebuild and prevent them falling back into bloodshed. Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war began in 1991 and left thousands dead and many more with amputated limbs.

UNIOSIL, the first integrated UN office established to support the peace-consolidation process, followed the completion of a peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone that ended on 31 December 2005. It is made up of almost 300 people, comprising 82 international staff, 192 local staff and 24 UN Volunteers.

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