The Mano River Union, blessed by nature, could become the engine of growth for the West African region if the leaders of the three member states would exercise the necessary political will to accelerate the development of their countries, according to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The Heads of State of the 30-year-old Mano River Union (MRU), comprising Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, are meeting in Guinea's capital, Conakry.
In a message delivered by Daudi Ngelautwa Mwakawago, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Sierra Leone, Mr. Annan called on them "to cut off the flow of small arms and light weapons, to curtail the use of child soldiers, to stop the smuggling of goods and the trafficking of drugs and people, and to address, decisively, the culture of impunity."
Trans-border collaboration, including deploying border patrols, should be considered, he said.
The region has suffered from war, deprivation and misrule, while the people have yearned for peace, stability, democracy and an environment in which their talents and energies can be used for socio-economic development, he said.
"The Mano River Union is blessed with fertile soil, rich forests and mineral resources, and an abundance of water, rivers and streams. If adequately harnessed, these assets could make the sub-region the breadbasket of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries," Mr. Annan said.
Meanwhile, the UN launched two of the world's largest peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone and Liberia and is deploying a force in Côte d'Ivoire, he said. The UN's humanitarian personnel are present throughout the region assisting, especially, with refugees and displaced people, while UN development agencies are helping to raise standards of living.
"And we are working closely with MRU leaders and the MRU Secretariat to reactivate the Union itself," Mr. Annan said.