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West Africa: funds to head off festering problems

West Africa needs funds to head off festering problems, Security Council told

Reforming the security sectors and reintegrating former militia members into their communities in West Africa need funds that have not been forthcoming and the high youth unemployment has created a desperation that could create unrest even in countries that are now calm, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.

"The lack of funding for reform of the security sector and, in particular, for the reintegration and rehabilitation phases of DDRR programmes is disturbing, given their central importance," he told a meeting of the Security Council, chaired by Foreign Minister Rogatien Biaou of Benin, to consider his progress report on sub-regional challenges to peace in West Africa. Benin holds the 15-member body's rotating presidency for February.

"Youth unemployment levels are shockingly high," he added, "and the accompanying desperation carries a real risk of political and social unrest in countries emerging from crisis, and even in those that are currently stable."

A statement read at the end of the session by Mr. Biaou said the Council "noted with deep concern" the tensions emerging and ongoing in some West African countries over the transfer of power, which might further obstruct efforts to stabilize the sub-region.

The statement also stressed the need to help West African States to curb illicit cross-border activities, and to take action to address problems, such as youth unemployment, the circulation of small arms and light weapons, security sector reform, drug trafficking and the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants.

Expressing his concern about the perpetuation and proliferation of conflicts in the area, the Secretary-General noted also the rapid growth of the urban population in places where job opportunities are limited and social services inadequate.

Much also remained to be done to make peaceful constitutional transfers of power the regional norm, he said, calling for maximum restraint from all sides in Togo while efforts continued to end its presidential succession crisis.

In Togo the death of its long-time President earlier this month led to the accession to power of his son, with retroactive changes to a constitution which originally called for the speaker of parliament to take the presidency and organize nationwide elections within 60 days.

"Togo, where a clumsy alternation to power was followed by great confusion, is a clear illustration of the fragility of peace and stability in parts of West Africa," the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, said.

When "small crises" like Togo's were not addressed promptly and coherently, they could grow bigger and more complicated, as had happened in Côte d'Ivoire, he said.

Côte d'Ivoire is now divided into two areas: one ruled by the Government, the other held by forces challenging the validity of the last presidential election, with UN-authorized peacekeeping forces controlling the area between them.

Meanwhile, countries not at war "remain fragile and could be weakened by violence in their neighbourhood," Mr. Ould-Abdallah said.

"Stronger support from the international community is needed for countries with working democratic processes, such as Ghana and Niger, where free and fair elections have been organized recently," he said.

UNOWA had worked closely with Ghana when that country chaired the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) and enjoyed a similarly strong relationship with the current chair, Niger, Mr. Ould-Abdallah said.

More than 20 speakers addressed the Security Council on the situation.

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