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Sierra Leone: Annan recommends gradual withdrawal of UN troops

Sierra Leone: Annan recommends gradual withdrawal of UN troops

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended a gradual withdrawal of the United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone and a six-month extension of their mandate, noting that the country still is not able to maintain security without UN help.

"Developments over recent months have proved the prudence of pursuing a gradual drawdown of the Mission," Mr. Annan says in his latest report to the Security Council on the activities of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The first serious challenges posed to the country's armed and law enforcement forces had "exposed the existence of considerable shortcomings," he adds.

Mr. Annan stresses, however, that these development should not be taken to mean the positive security trend in Sierra Leone has suffered a fundamental reversal, rather that much still needs to be done to strengthen the presence of the country's police in the areas being vacated by UNAMSIL.

"It is widely acknowledged that the presence of UNAMSIL gave the general public the confidence that prevented a deterioration of the situation," he says. "In these circumstances, I would like to recommend that the Security Council extend the mandate of UNAMSIL for a further period of six months, until 30 September 2003."

The Secretary-General expresses concern at the continued existence of the Civil Defence Force structure and says this "may undermine not only the credibility of the demobilization process, but also the long-term stability of the country." In addition, he says the commencement of the indictments by the Special Court carried considerable security challenges and therefore the need to ensure police and prison authorities have the capacity to secure custody of those apprehended.

The report also outlines several critical elements for a lasting peace in the country, including preventing young people from feeling excluded, control over diamond mining and creating reintegration opportunities for ex-combatants. "Solutions to these issues are complex and will require time, resources and actions ranging from promoting economic revival and education to skills training," Mr. Annan observes.

Reiterating his appeal to the international community to help bring an end to the conflict in Liberia, Mr. Annan stresses that "the security of Sierra Leone cannot be fully ensured while the conflict in Liberia persists." With the help of the UN, Sierra Leone has been able to cope with the influx of Liberian refugees but if the conflict continued, "a humanitarian emergency could arise," he says.