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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Wednesday 31 March 2004

SIERRA LEONE: UN extends mandate of peacekeepers until June 2005

ABIDJAN, 31 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - The UN Security Council has voted to extend the presence of the UN peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone by six months until June 2005 amid concerns that security in the country remains "fragile."

Following concerns that Sierra Leone could be destabilised by idle gunmen drifting in from neighbouring Liberia or a deterioration of the security situation in Guinea, the council voted on Tuesday to maintain a small force of 3,250 peacekeepers
in the country during the first six months of next year.

The mandate of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) was originally due to expire on December 31 2004.

The Security Council said the scaled-down peacekeeping force would be assisted by 141 military observers and 80 UN civilian police during the first half of 2005.

UNAMSIL spokesman Kemal Saiki told IRIN there had been unanimous recognition within the Security Council that considerable progress had been achieved, though some problems remained.

In his latest report on Sierra Leone, issued last week, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan noted that Sierra Leoneans and international stakeholders backed a transfer of responsibility for security to the government, but noted there were still problems with the Sierra Leonean army.

These included poor conditions of service for soldiers and the continuing support given by some sections of the army to former military leader Johnny Paul Koroma.

"What is important to note," said Saiki "is that UNAMSIL's draw down has been conceived and is carried out in such a way that we will retain at all times the capabilities and fire power to confront any threat to the peace and stability of Sierra Leone and exercise our mandate to the fullest extent."

UNAMSIL was established to bring peace and stability to Sierra Leone following the end of a brutal 10-year civil war in 2001. The force had 17,000 troops at its height, but its strength has since been reduced to 11,000 men. The force size is due to fall to 5,000 by the end of this year.

Briefing the press in New York on Tuesday, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Sierra Leone Daudi Mwakawago said that there had been much progress in extending the effective authority of the central government in Sierra Leone to areas that were once considered 'no-go'.

Sierra Leone Forces now control a number of areas in the central sector of the country. However, UNAMSIL maintains its presence along the borders with Guinea in the north and west and Liberia in the south-east.


[ENDS]



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