- During a symbolic and solemn ceremony at State House in Freetown, the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) today handed over security responsibilities for the Western Area, including the capital Freetown, to government forces. This was the last of the country's four provinces to be handed over to troops under the command of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.
UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone's Western Area, which includes the capital Freetown, lowered the UN flag for the last time and handed it over to the Commander of UNAMSIL's Northern Command, General Alhaji Nuhu Bamalli. There was also a change of guard from UN peacekeepers to officers of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP).
Speaking at the ceremony, UNAMSIL Force Commander, General Sajjad Akram said the peacekeeping mission was handing over primacy of security to the police, but peacekeepers would "remain ultimately responsible for security, but now in consultation with the government ... We will still proffer advice, identify solutions and always be available to support the security agencies to deal with serious security issues."
He urged the Sierra Leone Police and the Sierra Leone Armed Forces to "do their job efficiently, within the law and respect the government and the people they support ... You must always remember that you are a bastion of hope to the people of Sierra Leone. You must not let them down," he told them.
Referring to the occasion as "an important milestone" in the country's recovery, Sierra Leonean Vice President Solomon Berewa assured that the national police and army had been "trained and tested" and had proven worthy of trust. Effective mechanisms had been put in place to shore up the country's defence and judicial systems in the interest of all, he assured.
Sierra Leone's Vice President further paid glowing tribute to those UN peacekeepers who had died in the quest for peace in the country and entreated Sierra Leoneans to nurture that peace. "Sierra Leone has again entered the community of peaceful nations," said Vice President Berewa.
Earlier, religious leaders from the country's main Muslim and Christian faiths had prayed for the souls of those peacekeepers who lost their lives during their service in Sierra Leone. The landmark event was further witnessed by Sierra Leonean government Ministers, heads of the police and armed forces, the Mayor of Freetown and members of the diplomatic corps.
UNAMSIL, established in October 1999 to help with the implementation of the Lomé Peace Agreement and the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration plan, is in the process of gradually reducing its forces, which had an authorised maximum strength of 17,500 military personnel. The UN mission now stands at about 8,500 troops.
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