- The UN Security Council today decided to extend the mandates of its two major peacekeeping missions in West Africa; in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and in Liberia (UNMIL). While the Sierra Leonean mission was scaled down, the operation in Liberia was left unchanged and given an extended mandate for another 12 months.
One year after it set up the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia to stabilise the country following an end to 14 years of civil war, the Security Council today extended the operation's mandate for another 12 months - until 19 September 2005 - and welcomed the progress it was making in disarming the nation's thousands of ex-combatants.
Earlier this week, in a report to the Council, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the mission in Liberia was making great progress, citing the disarmament of an estimated 70,000 former combatants and the deployment of UNMIL troops all across Liberia. Security had therefore improved and humanitarian aid could be distributed more smoothly.
But Mr Annan said the programme to rehabilitate former fighters who have given up their weapons did not have enough funds, and called on international donors to make up the shortfall. Today's Security Council resolution backed that request. UNMIL had 15,763 troops, military observers and police officers in place on 31 August and has an approved budget of US$ 864 million for the year until 30 June 2005.
As the UN peacekeepers in Liberia are slowly taking control of the country, focus is moving towards humanitarian aid and development issues. Also the political process in Liberia is to be emphasised during the next year. UNMIL is to work together with Liberia's political parties to ensure that free and fair elections can take place, as scheduled, by October next year.
In neighbouring Sierra Leone, where UN peacekeepers have been stationed since 1999, processes now underway in Liberia have already been terminated. Peace, stability and democracy have been re-established and UNAMSIL is slowly downscaling its presence in the country, which experienced a brutal ten-year civil war.
The UN Security Council today extended the life UNAMSIL until the end of next June. While deciding on the continued progressive scaling down of the mission's size, the Council urged authorities in Sierra Leone to "accelerate its efforts to establish viable institutions so that it can take full responsibility for law and order."
The UN outlined the tasks of UNAMSIL after 1 January, when its presence is reduced to help the Sierra Leonean government assume authority over institutions such as the police, the armed forces, the judiciary and the penal system. There will be fewer than 5,000 UNAMSIL troops by the start of next year, well below its capacity of 17,500 military personnel when the Mission began in October 1999.
According to a report by Mr Annan, Sierra Leone is making "gradual progress towards stability and peace but many problems remain, especially in security." Sierra Leone's army still lacks the logistical, communications, accommodation and transport capacities necessary to do its work effectively across the whole of the country. But the report praised the rising revenue from diamond exports.
UNAMSIL historically remains the largest UN peacekeeping mission ever launched. While the mission is now scaling down, UNMIL in Liberia currently is the biggest UN peacekeeping mission in operation.
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