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Peacekeepers leave Sierra Leone, challenges remain

As peacekeepers depart Sierra Leone, numerous challenges remain – UN official

Sierra Leone faces a spectrum of challenges, from explosive youth unemployment to taking legitimate control of its rich mineral resources, as the United Nations peacekeeping mission winds down and the next phase of the West African country's development begins, the mission chief said today.

"We were there to keep the peace. We've kept it. So we want the peace-builders to come now and work with the people" on such challenges as 70 per cent of the 5 million population living on less than $1 a day and 70 per cent illiteracy, the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), Daudi Mwakawago, told a news conference at UN Headquarters.

In the development phase, helped by the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), the country will need $1.7 billion to kick-start its economy in line with its national poverty reduction strategy. A pledging conference, also called a Consultative Group Meeting, would take place in November in London, he said.

Reviewing the benchmarks for success that the Security Council had given UNAMSIL, he said over the course of its six years of operations, the mission had helped the Government expand its reach throughout the country, as well as demobilize and reintegrate more than 70,000 ex-combatants.

It had assisted with recruiting and training 9,300 out of the 9,500 police officers expected to be deployed by the end of the year, while the Government had found no need to ask for help since taking over responsibility for security from UNAMSIL in September of last year.

UNAMSIL had helped raise the earnings from diamond exports to $130 million last year from $10 million in 2000 by reducing smuggling, although 50 per cent of the industry was yet to be brought under Government control, Mr. Mwakawago said. He noted that in addition to its gold and diamonds, the pre-war country used to export bauxite, iron ore, rutile, timber, coffee, cocoa and rice.

The mission had scored a number of successes in improving governance, he said, noting that the United Kingdom was poised to start its $37 million programme to improve the country's judicial, corrections and immigration capabilities. At the same time, he warned that reducing corruption would take many more years.

Through the efforts of the UN-affiliated Special Court for Sierra Leone, impunity for those who had committed serious crimes had been challenged and the standard of adjudication raised, he said.

But he cautioned that while that Court was well-resourced and its staff well-paid, the local courts slated to take over adjudication in the coming years were very poor.

Asked whether Sierra Leone could slide back into conflict, he said the people were tired of war. In addition to the many lives lost, the numerous amputees and war-wounded in the population provided a constant reminder of the devastation wrought by fighting.

The presence of UN peacekeepers in neighbouring Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire added an extra element of stability by checking the free cross-border flow of bad elements in the area, he said. With those missions already in the region, it would not take long to mobilize a force if a new conflict arose in Sierra Leone.

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