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Some ‘encouraging’ signs in Côte d’Ivoire but more troops still needed: Annan

While noting “some encouraging signs” for advancing the peace process in divided Côte d’Ivoire, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned today the security situation remains fragile and repeated his appeal to the Security Council to reinforce the UN operation (UNOCI) to prevent trouble spreading to neighbouring Liberia.

In his latest report to the Security Council, covering developments since 3 January, Mr. Annan said that despite violence at the start of the year – including an attack on barracks in Abidjan – there were a number of positive signs, including agreements on disarmament and the preparation of elections, scheduled to be held by October.

“Some encouraging prospects for advancing the Ivorian peace process have emerged as a result of initiatives taken by Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny, with the support of President Laurent Gbagbo and other Ivorian leaders,” the Secretary-General noted, however he also warned that “considerable challenges lie ahead.”

“It should also be emphasized that the window of opportunity is very narrow, and time is running out. Any further delays or disruptions in the peace process will mean that there will not be sufficient time to complete all the critical tasks, if elections are to be held by October.”

Mr. Annan said that a “rapid deterioration of the security situation” could not be ruled out and he again appealed to the 15-member Council to “give positive consideration” to his recommendations to reinforce UNOCI by almost 4,000 extra troops and police, as contained in his report of 3 January and a letter sent last month.

“There exists a serious risk that any unravelling of the security situation in Côte d’Ivoire could spill over into the subregion, particularly to Liberia,” he said, adding also that “there is an urgent need to put an end to the culture of impunity in the country.”

The Security Council established UNOCI in May 2003 to assist the Ivorian parties in implementing a peace agreement they signed in January of that year, ending their north-south civil war. It currently guards the so-called Zone of Confidence separating the Government-ruled south and rebel-held north.

Mr. Annan’s requested increase in personnel would constitute a marked expansion of UNOCI, which presently has a strength of almost 7,600 uniformed personnel.

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