UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
SIERRA LEONE: Annan says UN peacekeepers should leave by end of 2005
DAKAR, 6 May 2005 (IRIN) - Sierra Leone is now calm enough to allow the UN peacekeeping mission (UNAMSIL) there to be phased out by the end of this year, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said.
About 3,400 peacekeepers remain in the West African nation, more than three years after the official end to a brutal decade-long civil war, which shocked the world with its images of drugged-up youths hacking the arms, legs, ears and lips off civilians.
In a report published Thursday, Annan called on the UN Security Council to renew the troops' mandate for a final six months.
"The situation in the country since my last report has been calm and stable," he told the 15-nation body. "I... recommend that the draw-down of the UNAMSIL presence commence in mid-August 2005 and be essentially completed by 31 December 2005."
UNAMSIL was created in October 1999 to help restore peace to Sierra Leone. At its height, it boasted 17,000 troops and was the biggest UN peacekeeping operation in the world.
The force was originally supposed to withdraw from Sierra Leone at the end of last year but its mandate was extended because of security concerns in neighbouring Liberia and Guinea.
Annan said on Thursday that there were "currently no major external threats" to the country, although he did highlight some possible regional scenarios that might have a spill-over effect on Sierra Leone in the future.
The continuation of the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, possible instability in Guinea and Liberia's first post-war elections due to be held in October would all have to be monitored, Annan said.
"The last (UNAMSIL) infantry battalion and air assets should remain fully operational until the end of November, by which time the results of the elections in Liberia will be known," the UN chief told the Security Council.
He urged the government in Freetown to "make full use of the unique window of opportunity", and to try to improve the security sector, the judicial system and combat poverty while the UN peacekeepers remained.
"Despite progress made in consolidating peace in Sierra Leone, the overall situation remains fragile," Annan said. "Widespread poverty, illiteracy, discrimination against women, corruption, lack of accountability and high levels of youth unemployment continue to cause serious concern."
He said the government would need continued international assistance, and that a strong UN agency presence was likely to be needed once UNAMSIL had gone.
A survey by the Sierra Leonean government which ended in 2004 found that 70 percent of its six million people still live on less than a dollar a day.
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