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Security Council briefed on political, humanitarian situation in West Africa

Security Council briefed on political, humanitarian situation in West Africa

The United Nations Security Council today heard in-depth briefings by the UN Secretariat on the political and humanitarian situation in West Africa - particularly Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau - and on ways of calming tensions in the region.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guéhenno drew the Council's attention to the 10 May meeting in Abuja of delegations from the Sierra Leone Government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which he called a "first step" towards building confidence between the parties. "If properly implemented by both sides in good faith, it has the potential to create the confidence needed to make further progress," he said.

As part of the Abuja agreement, the RUF will meet tomorrow with the Government and the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to discuss a firm timetable for disarmament, Mr. Guéhenno said, noting the Mission's forward deployment to Lunsar, Makeni and Magburaka last month and recent clashes between the RUF and the Civilian Defence Force (CDF).

Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Carolyn McAskie then informed the Council of her recent visit to West Africa, where she travelled to assess the humanitarian situation in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. According to Ms. McAskie, Guinea is facing "a humanitarian crisis of its own," with 200,000-300,000 internally displaced persons. "The deterioration of the situation in Liberia may well add to this number," she warned. On Sierra Leone, the Relief Coordinator said the return of refugees and the resettlement of displaced people were the main priorities. She also said that in meetings with interim RUF leader Issa Sesay she had requested to release the child soldiers, particularly girls, that the rebel group had abducted.

In a third briefing, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahima Fall presented the report of the Inter-Agency Mission to West Africa from 7 to 27 March, which warned that the impact of the conflicts in West Africa on the Mano River Union States and Côte d'Ivoire required immediate action, and called for the UN to cooperate with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to develop a joint plan of action for dealing with the matter. Another priority was to provide both Guinea-Bissau and Côte d'Ivoire with urgent financial assistance in order to prevent a recurrence of internal strife in those countries.

In the exchange of views that followed the Secretariat briefing, Council members agreed on the need for an integrated, regional approach to problems, and on many of the recommendations of the inter-agency report, including the establishment of a United Nations office in West Africa and measures to strengthen the ECOWAS role in the region, which had been extremely beneficial to date.