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Ban Ki-moon pledges UN support for Guinea-Bissau’s parliamentary polls

Ban Ki-moon pledges UN support for Guinea-Bissau’s parliamentary polls

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has assured Guinea-Bissau of the world body’s support in organizing and monitoring the parliamentary elections to be held next year in the small West African country, which has witnessed rising political and social tensions, and a deteriorating economic situation.

“The elections will be a test of the ability of the country to exercise democratic governance,” Mr. Ban says in his report to the Security Council on the latest activities the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS).

They will also be “a key benchmark for the exit strategy of UNOGBIS,” which was set up in 1999 to help the country emerge from a devastating civil war, he adds.

The holding of parliamentary polls next year follows the signing of a national political stability pact on 12 March by the three main political parties in Guinea-Bissau – the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde and Guinea, the Social Renewal Party and the United Social Democratic Party. The agreement led to the swearing in on 17 April of the Government of Prime Minister Martinho Dafa Cabi.

Mr. Ban also notes that the repeated political crises besetting the Government continue to prevent it from focusing on improving the economic lot of the population, which lives in one of Africa’s poorest countries. Economic growth in 2006 declined to 1.8 per cent, and the outlook for the rest of 2007 is “grim,” he states.

He commends the new Government for pledging to place the country’s finances on a “sound footing” and for quickly re-establishing working relations with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

In addition, Mr. Ban urges the Government to redouble efforts to advance security sector reforms, noting that very little was achieved in that area in the months under review.

Organized crime, particularly drug trafficking, presents “a new and growing” problem in the country, he adds. “The use of Guinea-Bissau as a transit point for illegal drugs from Latin America bound for Europe remains an issue of major concern to the authorities and international partners.”

The report cites the interception in April, of 635 kg of cocaine in a vehicle carrying two military personnel and one civilian. The military personnel were handed over to the military authorities, and an investigation was initiated. However, the two officers were later released.

“The human and material resources of law enforcement agencies are woefully inadequate to address this growing problem,” Mr. Ban warns. He notes that the Government has created a commission to probe the disappearance of 670 kg of cocaine, which was seized by the Criminal Investigation Police in September 2006 and transported to the vault of the Ministry of Finance for safekeeping. As a result of that investigation, the Director-General of the Criminal Investigation Police and another senior official were dismissed.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will post a senior law enforcement specialist to Bissau to assist in the development of a country strategy to combat drug trafficking. The specialist, whose assignment will be funded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), will operate under the overall supervision of UNOGBIS, according to the report.