West Africa's problems stem from abuses of the region's governance, human rights and transparency obligations, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Security Council today.
"Until they are addressed with real resolve, until there is a fundamental break with authoritarianism and the culture of violence, exclusion and impunity, I fear that whatever inroads we manage to make in handling cross-border problems will remain just that - temporary inroads - and fragile, at best," Mr Annan said.
He was kicking off a Council debate on a report he issued earlier this month on "Ways to Combat Sub-Regional and Cross-Border Problems in West Africa."
He urged the Governments in the region to establish solidly democratic institutions and effective regional institutions.
"West Africa is blessed with a vibrant civil society that has wide-ranging experience in conflict-prevention, peace-building and development," Mr. Annan said. "States must draw on their experience in addressing their problems."
In a multi-faceted approach, special attention should be paid to the proliferation of small arms, the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the use of child soldiers and mercenaries, as well as to roadblocks that impede the movement of people and goods in the sub-region, he said.
He welcomed the executive secretary of the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS), Mohammad ibn Chambas, Foreign Minister Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, whose President John Kufuor is chairing ECOWAS, and Deputy Minister Andre Wilzer of the French Ministry of Cooperation and Francophonie, who were scheduled to address the Council.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jan Egeland said the sub-region's capacity to handle the massive movements of refugees now being experienced is limited.
"Guinea currently hosts over 100,000 refugees, while over 100,000 Guineans have returned from Côte d'Ivoire. Other countries in the sub-region, such as Mali and Burkina Faso, suffer from the spillover effects of these conflicts. For example, over 340,000 people have returned to Burkina Faso from Côte d'Ivoire over this past year alone," he said.
He noted that such critical areas for refugees as protection, health and education have been seriously under-funded despite appeals, with Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea receiving little or no funding for appeals launched in 2003.
Video of Council meeting [3hrs 10mins]