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UN peacekeeping presence in Sierra Leone needed for another 6 months: Annan

UN peacekeeping presence in Sierra Leone needed for another 6 months: Annan

Recent progress in the peace process in Sierra Leone has increased the role of UNAMSIL, the United Nations peacekeeping operation there, making its presence in the country necessary for another six months through March 2002, Secretary-General Kofi Annan tells the Security Council in a just released report.

According to Mr. Annan, the progress achieved over the past two months, particularly in the disarmament of combatants and the release of child soldiers, has meant that UNAMSIL has had to take on new tasks such as the provision of transport for those children and additional logistical assistance to the disarmament programme.

"A durable solution to the conflict in Sierra Leone can be based only on restoration of government authority throughout the country, tangible progress towards economic recovery, full reintegration of ex-combatants, national reconciliation and participatory democracy," he writes, adding that once progress has been made towards these objectives, the UN's involvement in Sierra Leone could be adjusted accordingly.

Noting that the recent progress in the peace progress gives ground for "cautious optimism," the Secretary-General says continuing clashes between rebels and pro-government militias in eastern Sierra Leone are a clear reminder that "the months leading up to the elections may be fraught with tensions that could adversely affect the recent impressive gains in the peace process." In that context, he welcomes the efforts by Sierra Leone's National Electoral Commission to plan for presidential and parliamentary elections, but warns that voting should only take place after the disarmament programme has been completed, the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) transformed into a political party, civil authority restored, UNAMSIL fully deployed, and freedom of movement guaranteed throughout the country.

The report also states that, in order for UNAMSIL to carry out the tasks of providing security and logistical assistance for the elections, the operation may require a military strength in excess of the current established ceiling of 17,500 troops.

Noting that the disarmament programme has a funding shortfall of $5 million this year alone, Mr. Annan urges donors to contribute generously to the programme, expressing concern that demobilized combatants who remain idle for too long could resort to activities that jeopardize the peace process and the stability of the subregion.

On the humanitarian front, the Secretary-General says the situation remains "precarious" and that pervasive large-scale violence against women in Sierra Leone remains a source of major concern. He urges all parties to respect human rights, especially those of women and children.