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International drug trafficking poses biggest threat to Sierra Leone, UN warns

International drug trafficking poses biggest threat to Sierra Leone, UN warns

Although Sierra Leone continues to progress in consolidating peace six year after a devastating civil war, more remains to be done to make the achievements irreversible, with international drug trafficking posing a critical threat to stability in the impoverished West African country and the region at large, according to a United Nations report released today.

“Illicit drug trafficking, a new phenomenon with huge potential for disrupting the security and socio-economic stability of the country, and indeed the region, has to be addressed before it takes root and poses even greater dangers,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in the report to the Security Council, noting the increasing use of Sierra Leone for transhipment of drugs from South America to Europe.

“Cocaine trafficking represents the biggest single threat to Sierra Leone, especially since drug trafficking tends to be accompanied by arms and human trafficking, corruption and the subversion of legitimate State institutions,” he adds.

It is “critical” that the international community continue to support the country in combating the menace as well as in fighting sea piracy and supporting the overall process of peacebuilding, he stresses. Various UN agencies are currently helping the operations of the national drug interdiction force

The report is the first since the October opening of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), the latest in a series of UN missions over the past 10 years that have helped the country get back on its feet from a horrific 10-year war that killed tens of thousands of people and injured countless others, many of whom had their limbs amputated by rebel forces.

In it, Mr. Ban charts the progress made and the challenges that still lie ahead, highlighting the need for all segments of the country, including the Government, political parties and civil society to work together to enhance national cohesion and political reconciliation and the urgency of making greater efforts to meet crucial socio-economic demands, including poor infrastructure and an extremely low revenue base.

He stresses that urgent action is vital to combat youth unemployment, which remains “the most acute concern” in a country where the young constitute the largest proportion of the population, while calling on both the Government and the international community to ensure that the victims of the war receive the care and rehabilitation they need.

On the plus side, he notes that the Government has made the fight against corruption a key element of its reform plan, with the help of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and that infant, child and maternal mortality rates have declined sharply, with support from the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

Major security institutions have continued to improve, with UNIPSIL providing substantial input in developing appropriate policing standards, while armed forces reform has advanced. The country continued to register a consistent trend towards respect for civil and political rights, and for the first time in its history there appears to be a change of attitude about female genital mutilation, with some traditional chiefs pledging not to subject anyone under 18 to the practice.

Meanwhile, overall economic performance has been mixed with gross domestic product growing at an encouraging 6 per cent in 2008, but economic risks in 2009 include a decline in official development assistance, the high cost of food and fuel, reduction in export revenues due to a slowdown in mining activities, and a decline in remittances from abroad due to the global recession.

Sierra Leone is one of the first two countries, along with Burundi, to receive support from the UN Peacebuilding Commission, established in 2005 to help post-conflict countries avoid slipping back into chaos and to determine the priority areas for rebuilding out of the vast array of challenges they face.

More than 90 per cent of the $35 million granted to Sierra Leone from the Peacebuilding Fund has been used on 14 projects ranging from anti-corruption, decentralization and local governance to the development of an independent national broadcasting service.