Sunday, December 09, 2007

UN chief proposes reducing UN presence in Sierra Leone

image UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — UN chief Ban Ki-moon is proposing gradually scaling down the UN presence in Sierra Leone, according to a report released here Friday.

In his latest report on the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), Ban recommended that the current operation be extended for a final period of nine months so that it can continue to assist Freetown in holding the local elections scheduled for next year and in bolstering state institutions.

"During this period, UNIOSIL would take steps to progressively reduce its strength with a view to completing its mandate by September 2008," the UN chief said in his report.

Ban said he planned to submit proposals on the drawdown of the mission, as well as the mandate, structure and strength of the successor office, to the Security Council next April.

The UN peace consolidation office in Sierra Leone is a successor to what was once the world's largest peacekeeping force with 17,500 personnel.

The West African country of 5.5 million people endured a decade-long civil war from 1991-2001 in which some 120,000 people were killed and thousands were mutilated.

The UN Security Council in 2005 judged conditions in Sierra Leone to have improved sufficiently to end the UN peacekeeping mission mandate there.

Three months ago the country held democratic elections, the first since UN troops withdrew, and a new leadership was ushered into office.

Ban noted that this summer's elections highlighted "deep-seated political tensions and cleavages" among the population along ethnic and geographical lines.

He warned that these have the potential to escalate in the run-up to next year's local elections.

AFP: UN chief proposes reducing UN presence in Sierra Leone