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    Press Release No: UNIS/SG/2659
    Release Date:    12 September 2000
     Secretary-General Pays Tribute to ECOWAS Efforts for Peace in Sierra Leone; 
    Calls on ECOWAS Leaders to Influence Rebels to Cooperate
     

     NEW YORK, 11 September (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Statement today to the first meeting of the Coordination Mechanism on Sierra Leone of the United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States and the Government of Sierra Leone:

    I am pleased to welcome all of you to the first meeting of the coordination mechanism between the United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Government of Sierra Leone. 

    I wish to pay tribute to the role of the ECOWAS States in trying to resolve conflicts in the subregion, and in Sierra Leone in particular.  At this moment, I am particularly concerned about reports of tensions on the border between Liberia and Guinea.  I trust that ECOWAS will do all it can to prevent any deterioration in this situation, which could have an adverse effect on Sierra Leone.

    As partners in the effort to restore peace and security in Sierra Leone, it is essential that we harmonize our views and strategies and act as one on every aspect of this challenge. 

    Before addressing issues which specifically require our close cooperation, I am sure I speak for all of us in expressing my relief at today's successful rescue of the six British soldiers and one Sierra Leonean officer who had been detained.  At the same time we must all deeply regret the loss of life involved.  Let us resolve to work even harder to prevent such incidents from recurring.

    In particular, I hope that the leaders of ECOWAS will exert all their influence to ensure that the new Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader, "Brigadier" Issa Sessay, cooperates fully and fulfils his undertakings promptly.  Above all, it is crucial that ECOWAS prevail on the RUF to ensure an early return of all weapons and equipment seized from United Nations peacekeepers.  This is a real test for the new leaders.

    As this group knows only too well, the humanitarian implications of the continued instability in the subregion cannot be underestimated.  Various crises in the region seriously affect the civilian population.  Abduction of civilians by armed groups and forced recruitment continue in Sierra Leone.  The number of new internally displaced persons since the May crisis now exceeds 300,000, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has registered nearly 15,000 Sierra Leo nean refugees in Guinea during the same  period.  In addition, some 37,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia are unable to return home owing to the precarious security situation.

    I am glad that the Security Council is considering a comprehensive resolution on Sierra Leone, which would expand the force level of United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to up to 20,500 military personnel and would enable it to carry out a number of priority tasks.  This resolution should be adopted by 20 September.  I hope that it will give a new impetus to the search for a solution to the conflict. 

    Recently, two other resolutions were adopted on Sierra Leone, one intended to ban the export of uncertified diamonds from Sierra Leone, and, the other, addressing the issue of impunity.  I believe these resolutions reflect the genuine commitment of the international community to help find a lasting settlement to the conflict.

    Aiming to improve the cohesiveness of UNAMSIL and to promote a shared understanding of the Mission's mandate, concept of operations and rules of engagement, I convened a meeting of the Chiefs of Defence Staff of troop-contributing countries on 23 August.  They all expressed themselves very frankly, and the meeting enabled us to clear up many misunderstandings.

    Today’s meeting provides another important opportunity to review the progress that has been made, and set out priorities for the future.  The Government is making a real effort to promote peace in the country.  However, I believe it should redouble its efforts to extend its administration throughout the country, and work as effectively as possible with my Special Representative and with the United Nations force.

    I am confident that all of us together –  the United Nations, ECOWAS and the Government of Sierra Leone  – are paving the path to lasting security, which is the essential condition for the social and economic development that Sierra Leone so desperately needs.

    I wish you a productive and successful meeting.

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