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Sierra Leone's Socio-Economic Situation Hopeful

Sierra Leone's socio-economic situation 'hopeful,' Security Council told

7 May 2008 - Sierra Leone's prospects of moving forward and boosting its socio-economic situation is "hopeful," a senior United Nations peacekeeping official told the Security Council today.

"However, this will require the Government making tough economic and political decisions and implementing policies that promote transparency and accountability," Assistant Secretary-General Dmitry Titov of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) said. "It will require sacrifice and patience on the part of Sierra Leoneans as the country continues its journey towards full economic recovery."

Mr. Titov, who briefed the Council on the work of the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), said that the political and security situation in the West African nation is "generally calm," but pointed out that there have been several violent incidents involving supporters of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) and the opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP).

In July, the country will hold local council elections, which the official characterized as "another major step towards enhancing its democratic process."

But he warned that tensions between APC and SLPP supporters will rise in the run-up to the polls, and noted that UNIOSIL is working with many groups on the ground for a peaceful election.

The Assistant Secretary-General said that surging staple commodities and fuel prices have led to there being little in the way of progress in Sierra Leone's socio-economic condition, voicing concern that dissatisfaction over soaring prices could lead to unrest.

He also cautioned that gains made in rebuilding the country could be reversed if more employment opportunities are not generated for young people.

Meanwhile, the human rights situation has seen an improvement, given the bolstered respect for civil and political rights and the passing of legislation on women's and children's rights.

"However, efforts to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation are still very slow," Mr. Titov told the Council.

On the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) - established in December 2005 to help countries recovering from war avoid a relapse into violence and chaos - he observed that the adoption of a PBC Framework for Sierra Leone "has injected fresh impetus into the peace consolidation process."

The chair of the PBC's Sierra Leone "configuration" said in his remarks to the Council that "impressive" steps have been taken in the areas of justice and security sector reform; anti-corruption; the development of the energy sector; and preparation for the upcoming elections.

But "there are also a number of challenges which must be addressed in the next few months," said Dutch Ambassador Frank Majoor, including the need to appoint a new head of UNIOSIL and to create a means to informally coordinate on PBC-related issues.

In his most recent report on the UN mission, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote that UNIOSIL will withdraw in September and recommended that it be replaced by a UN integrated peacebuilding office, to be known as UNIPSIL, which "holistically addresses the political, economic and peacebuilding challenges facing the country."

At today's Council meeting, Mr. Majoor stated that "the follow-on mission must also have adequate operational capacity and logistical support to effectively carry out its mandate," urging that a new Executive Representative of the Secretary-General to head UNIOSIL - a position that has been vacant since December 2007 - be appointed as soon as possible.

UNIOSIL was set up in 2006 to help the Government consolidate the country's hard-won peace following a brutal, 11-year conflict, and to tackle a wide range of challenges related to good governance, security, human rights and development.

In a related development, representatives of Sierra Leone's Government and civil society are taking part in a UN-backed meeting which started yesterday on the country's reporting obligations to global human rights treaty monitoring bodies.

Participants at the event - sponsored by the Foreign Ministry, UNIOSIL, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone - conferred on adopting a national strategy to jump-start the reporting process by the Government.

In addition, a two-day training scheme led by UNIOSIL's Human Rights and Rule of Law Section began today for some 50 people to improve their understanding of the issues and the reporting process.

ENDS

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