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Road to peace and democracy in Sierra Leone will be bumpy, warns UN official

14 September 2009 – Although Sierra Leone had embarked on a remarkable journey towards a stable, peaceful and democratic country, this journey will be bumpy, long and even, at times, dangerous, the top United Nations official in the West African nation warned today.

“We must anticipate accidents, derailments and mistakes along this road… there are no easy benchmarks that will tell us that Sierra Leone is out of the woods,” Michael Schulenberg, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative for Sierra Leone, said in his briefing to the Security Council.

“What Sierra Leone will need to succeed is time, patience, determined national leadership and continued international support,” he added.

Mr. Schulenberg noted that Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, it does not have a large educated middle class and over 70 per cent of the population remains illiterate. In addition, state institutions remain weak and the nation’s journey towards prosperity is taking place in a “difficult” regional environment.

The political and security situation in West Africa remains “highly precarious,” said the Executive Representative, noting worrying signs of military coups and ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, as well as threats from illicit drug trafficking and international crime.

Given the interdependence of most countries in the sub-region, this could ultimately threaten Sierra Leone’s achievements. On the other hand, a successful and peaceful Sierra Leone could have a positive influence on the developments in the region, added Mr. Schulenberg, who also heads the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL).

“Sierra Leone will need the international community for continued political, financial and economic support, but let us not forget that we too will need Sierra Leone for fostering regional peace and stability.”

He noted that, over the last year, UNIPSIL has been able to prove that it is possible to draw down a large and expensive peacekeeping operation and replace it with a “much cheaper and leaner” peacebuilding mission.

With a staff of only 73, UNIPSIL – which last August replaced the previous UN political office in the country, known as UNIOSIL – has maintained a strong role as a political facilitator in the country, as demonstrated by the Office’s role in helping to resolve the recent outbreak of violence in the country, he said.

In his latest report on the Office, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended a one-year extension of the mandate of UNIPSIL, which works closely with the UN Peacebuilding Commission in supporting the post-conflict peacebuilding efforts of the country.

 



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