- Only four months after the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone was dissolved, there are new signs of tension and destabilisation in the impoverished country. Rampant and growing corruption combined with an extremely high youth unemployment rate could lead Sierra Leone to renewed political violence, the UN now warns.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a report urges Sierra Leone's government to "deal with the increasing youth unemployment, rampant corruption, and growing border tension with Guinea," warning that unless these issues are dealt with, the calm security situation that has prevailed in the country since last year's departure of the UN peacekeeping mission could be destabilised.
In his first report to the UN Security Council on the downsized UN office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), which became operational on 1 January after the peacekeepers had departed, Mr Annan also highlights "growing concern" that the trials of the former fighting groups at the special war crimes court and the recent transfer of Liberian ex-President Charles Taylor to the Court could be a source of security incidents, although so far the situation is under control.
Mr Annan writes he remains "seriously concerned" about potentially destabilising conditions, citing in particular increasing youth unemployment, the dire economic situation and rampant corruption and mismanagement, as well as the increasing tension in areas along the border with Guinea.
"I urge the government, with support from its partners, to pay particular attention to these factors and introduce corrective measures expeditiously. Good governance and healthy economic policies and the continuation of major reforms should remain the long-term priority for Sierra Leone."
Mr Annan also points out that next year's elections will be a "major test of the sustainability of the peace and stability." Not only must the polls be credible, they are also "crucial from the standpoint of the democratisation and rejuvenation of the political and economic life" of the country.
So far, the government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah has not convinced democrats in Sierra Leone or abroad. Criticism from the opposition and revelations of corruption affairs have often ended up in government attacks on Sierra Leone's struggling independent press. Many already doubt that the upcoming elections can be held in a free and fair way.
Further, despite the difficulties described in the UN report, which also include the need for the government to "redouble its efforts" to stem corruption in the police force, Mr Annan says he is "reasonably optimistic about the future of the country," although he calls on the world community to remain actively involved.
"The international community, which has invested considerable resources over the past seven years to end the war and consolidate the peace, needs to keep a close eye on some of the negative trends identified in this report, and continue to support the government in addressing the many challenges that remain, in particular promoting economic recovery and good governance," the UN leader writes.
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