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Sierra Leone: Annan proposes gradual downsizing of UN mission in response to progress

Sierra Leone: Annan proposes gradual downsizing of UN mission in response to progress

With Sierra Leone making "steady and remarkable" progress in a number of important areas, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended that the United Nations mission be adjusted and eventually downsized as the first step towards a gradual handover of security and other responsibilities to the country's Government.

The Secretary-General's recommendations come in his latest report to the Security Council on the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), in which he also commends Freetown for taking steps to deploy its police and army, hold general elections and establish a truth and reconciliation commission as well as a special war crimes court to address past human rights abuses.

These encouraging developments, Mr. Annan writes, along with the steady improvement in the security situation in Sierra Leone, have created new circumstances in the country that make it possible to consider beginning the drawdown of UNAMSIL, with the ultimate objective being a gradual, phased and deliberate transfer of responsibility for the country's security from the Mission to the Government.

Under the Secretary-General's proposal, which he recommends the Council approve, the Mission's military component would be reduced from its current strength of some 17,000 UN peacekeepers to about 5,000 by late 2004 before settling on 2,000 troops, depending on need at that time. Meanwhile, the number of civilian police would be increased to about 185, mostly to help with training at Sierra Leone's police force. There would also be a reduction in the UN's civilian presence.

"The beginning of the drawdown of UNAMSIL will take the Mission into the final phase of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone, which is recognizably one of the most difficult aspects of such operations," Mr. Annan observes, recommending another six-month extension of the Mission's mandate. "Its outcome will be critical in determining whether the efforts of the international community in the country over the past few years can be considered a durable success."

In the meantime, the Secretary-General says he remains deeply concerned about the conflict in neighbouring Liberia, warning that without the engagement of the international community, it could escalate further and jeopardize the progress achieved in Sierra Leone and destabilize the wider Mano River subregion.

"A possible prolonged stalemate in the conflict would have equally tragic consequences for the people of Liberia," he cautions, calling for urgent international action in response.