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Annan visits war crimes court in Sierra Leone

Annan visits war crimes court in Sierra Leone

Secretary-General Kofi Annan today met with United Nations officials and peacekeepers in Sierra Leone as well as with the president of the small West African country that the world body helped to nurse back to peace and stability after a disastrous and brutal civil war.

On the second stage of an African and European trip, Mr. Annan visited Camp Solar, which houses the more than 200 Mongolian soldiers who protect the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, where those charged with crimes against humanity are being tried for their roles in the 10-year conflict in which thousands were killed and many others mutilated with amputations of limbs.

He thanked them for their dedicated, exemplary service so far from their home, adding that they could be the vanguard of increased Mongolian participation in UN peacekeeping.

The Secretary-General assured President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah that while the peacekeeping mission had closed, the UN remained dedicated to working in Sierra Leone and stands ready to assist in elections.

Speaking to reporters after meeting the president, Mr. Annan praised progress in Sierra Leone. “There have been some remarkable achievements: the security situation has remained stable; commercial activity has expanded; the economy is growing, albeit from a low base; there has been progress in fostering national reconciliation; the country now has a professional police force; the restructuring of the army continues; you are preparing to go to national elections next year.

At the same time, he noted that Sierra Leone is beset by a number of difficulties, including “limited employment opportunities, especially for the youth; lack of capacity in many State institutions; extreme poverty and the fragile security situation in the sub-region.” The UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone was created to support the Government in consolidating the gains already made and in addressing remaining challenges, he added.

He then went to see the Special Court, where he was briefed by senior officials on its work and its completion strategy.

The Special Court will have jurisdiction over the case against former Liberian President Charles Taylor at The Hague. Speaking to reporters, Mr. Annan said that trial would be a signal event. “Mr. Taylor's trial should send the strong message around the continent, and around the world, that warlords in other parts of Africa, and the world, can not assume that they will get away with their crimes, and that impunity will not be allowed to stand.”

Mr. Annan, who arrived in Sierra Leone from the Gambian capital of Banjul where he attended an African Union summit, was leaving for Liberia. After that, he will head on to Côte d'Ivoire, where he expects on Wednesday to continue discussions on resolving the crisis that has divided the country between a Government-held south and a rebel-held north.

In New York, a UN spokesman announced that Mr. Annan has added Italy and Russia to the European part of his trip which already includes talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Horst Kohler. In Russia he will attend the summit of the Group of 8 (G-8) industrialized countries in St. Petersburg.

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