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Regional Collaboration Key To W. Africa Security

Regional collaboration key to West Africa's security, UN envoy says

As West African officials gathered today in Liberia for a meeting on issues of common concern, the senior United Nations envoy to the country stressed the importance of effective regional collaboration in ensuring security in the area.

"Nowhere is our collaboration more important than in Liberia. By contributing troops to our force your respective countries have provided this Mission with robust capabilities, contributing immensely to Liberia's and the region's peace and security," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative, Alan Doss, said at a reception for the Chiefs of Defence Staff of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

He urged ECOWAS members to "continue to support Liberia and the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) so that the national programme of recovery and development can go forward in peaceful conditions."

Acknowledging the importance of the work of the military delegates over the coming days, UNMIL's Force Commander, Lt.-Gen. Chikadibia Isaac Obiakor, said "Your work here this week will have a major impact on the consolidation of peace and stability in the region."

He noted that participants are working to develop an ECOWAS Standby Force, aiming to have it ready by 2010.

The UNMIL Force Commander, as well as the Force Commander of the UN Mission in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI) will brief the gathering, which aims to to promote cooperation and integration in order to create an economic and monetary union for encouraging economic growth and development in West Africa.

In another development, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has released the results of a new survey it conducted with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicating that more than half of all women in Lofa County, northern Liberia, reported at least one incident of sexual violence during the conflict that tore through the region from 1999 to 2003, while nearly 90 per cent reported at least one incident of physical violence.

"The Lofa survey has shocking findings on the extent of sexual violence, exploitation, and abuse during the war, and is the first 'scientific' survey on the experiences of women during the conflict," said Pamela Delargy, chief of UNFPA's Humanitarian Response Unit.

The survey of 907 women in 36 villages also found that more than 98 per cent lost shelter, 90.8 per cent lost their livelihoods, and 72.8 per cent lost a family member due to the war.

While most lacked access to reproductive health services during the conflict, many women sought it in Guinea or Sierra Leone, which UNFPA said shows the importance of providing these services to refugees.

The survey also lists key recommendations to address the poor reproductive health situation in Lofa County, including scaling up the provision of reproductive health supplies and equipment for health facilities and hospitals, establishing a gender-based violence coordinator, promoting voluntary counselling and testing services, and increasing HIV/AIDS education campaigns.


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