West Africa: amid progress, region remains volatile, Security Council told

West Africa: amid progress, region remains volatile, Security Council told

Despite some improvements, the situation in West Africa remains volatile, requiring an integrated international response, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today at the outset of its extensive debate on the sub-region.

Ibrahima Fall, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, noted that the peace process in Sierra Leone had continued to progress, while the Government of Côte d'Ivoire had organized a national reconciliation dialogue. Guinea's Government had decided not to force through legislative elections that might have led to an internal crisis, and well-contested but largely peaceful democratic transitions had occurred in Ghana and the Gambia.

At the same time, he warned that the overall political situation in West Africa remained volatile. Insecurity and instability could spread particularly in the Mano River Union countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In addition, the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons was of great concern, Mr. Fall told the meeting, which later heard statements from representatives of some 20 countries.

The UN, he noted, had renewed its commitment to help revive the Mano River Union. A UN working group was preparing to convene a meeting on developing a pragmatic and coordinated UN response to requests submitted by the three Union members. Mr. Fall emphasized the importance of sustaining momentum in this effort.

The Assistant Secretary-General also said the Sierra Leone peace process was crucial in bringing peace to the sub-region. He noted that fighting in neighbouring Liberia could have dangerous spill-over effects in Sierra Leone, reinforcing the need for an integrated approach in responding to the sub-region's crisis.

Calling for the Council's continued engagement in the area, he said underlying tensions were evident across national boundaries, fuelled by chronic under-development and political crises. Other challenges facing the region included the need to reintegrate demobilized soldiers, stop illegal arms traffic, protect children in armed conflicts, and promote peace, justice and national reconciliation in several countries, including Togo, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Mr. Fall said the opening in Dakar of an Office for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa would be a welcome step in coping with the challenges ahead. The Special Representative would enhance linkages in the work of the UN in the sub-region while carrying out "good offices" roles and special assignments in interested countries.