Africa, with three-quarters of the United Nations' 45,000 uniformed peacekeeping forces, made real progress in achieving peace in 2003, but many challenges remain, a senior United Nations official said today.
"It is important to sustain the peacekeeping efforts there," the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told a news conference.
Highlighting the continent's accomplishments, he cited the establishment of a transitional government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the prospect of real peace in Sierra Leone and Burundi, possible success in Liberia and negotiations in Sudan.
He also voiced hope that the Security Council would back the expansion of the UN Mission in Côte d'Ivoire (MINUCI), which currently has 34 military liaison officers.
Also attending the briefing were three Special Representatives for the Secretary-General: Daudi Mwakawago, head of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), William Lacy Swing, head of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and Jacques Paul Klein, chief of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
Mr. Mwakawago said the UN forces in Sierra Leone were being gradually downsized by June to 10,500 from 17,000, taking into account the Government's readiness to assume responsibility for countrywide security and law and order.
An assessment mission scheduled to go to Sierra Leone next week would formulate proposals to the Security Council about post-UNAMSIL arrangements, he said.
Mr. Swing observed that MONUC has evolved from a small observer mission to a complex multi-dimensional operation called upon to facilitate the transition process culminating in elections in June 2005.
Although "sometimes it appears that everything has been broken but the human spirit" in the DRC, dramatic progress has been achieved, he said. Former adversaries were now together in the same government, the once-divided country was now reunited, and the Congo River was open to traffic.
But Mr. Swing also noted that in the context of war, 3.5 million people had lost their lives while 600,000 had fled their homes.
On Liberia, Mr. Klein said that the increased international presence throughout the country had served to quell violence. Troop deployments had also paved the way for the provision of humanitarian assistance.
He noted that tomorrow, the second and final day of a pledging conference for Liberia being held at the UN, Secretary-General Kofi Annan and representatives of the international community would seek funds for the country's reconstruction. "Stable peace would be elusive without development," he warned.
Video of press briefing