Mandate Of UN Mission In Guinea Bissau Likely To Be Extended

Jules S. Gueye, PANA Correspondent
BISSAU, Guinea Bissau (PANA) - The mandate of the UN support mission in Guinea Bissau may be extended beyond its scheduled 31 December deadline, a UN official has hinted.

Samuel Nana-Sinkan, special representative of the UN Secretary-general, Kofi Annan, told PANA that the Guinea Bissau government has already forwarded a request to the UN for the extension.

He said Annan was awaiting confirmation of the new government following the 28 December presidential and parliamentarian elections before deciding on the request.

Nana-Sinkan said a second round of balloting, initially planned for mid-January, would postpone Annan's decision on the matter to February but indicated that he would probably suggest to the Security Council a provisional measure aimed at maintaining the mission.

It is generally believed in Bissau that the one-year extension of the UN mission in Guinea Bissau should only be a mere formality.

He said that although the holding of democratic and fair elections was a determining step in the normalisation process in the country and an achievement of the UN mission, "there is still a lot to be done."

When Cameroonian Nana-Sinkan was appointed in June 1999 as the head of the mission, he met Guinea Bissau ravaged by ten months of a civil conflict that ruined its economic fabric and forced thousands of its population to seek refuge elsewhere.

The war had also created internal animosity as well as dislike for neighbouring countries Senegal and Guinea who vainly sent in troops to bolster the former president, Joao Bernardo Vieira.

The mission had a clear mandate to create a friendly environment for the restoration of peace, national reconciliation and democratic principles, as provided by the Lome and Abuja agreements signed in February 1999 by parties involved in the conflict.

Nana-Sinkan shrewdly began the task by destroying the walls of suspicion that existed between citizens of Guinea Bissau and their neighbours.

The move led to the release of some 600 political prisoners 8 July from the junta's prisons and entrusted to the ministry of justice. Their trial is scheduled to begin 10 December.

Nana-Sinkan rated organising the elections as the most difficult part of the mandate, which involved amending article 5 of the constitution which formerly excluded citizens born of a foreign father or mother from contesting the presidency.

"Instead of excluding candidates in advance, the idea was to let the people do it by themselves," he said, adding, "that is to explain the plethora of 12 presidential candidates in a country of just over one million people."

The mission also reassured the army and urged the soldiers to respect their commitment to return to barracks after the elections.

According to Nana-Sinkan, the army's fate largely depends on the future of the country as "no lasting solution can be considered in Guinea Bissau if the issue of war veterans is not solved. We have to restore the dignity of war veterans."

After the inauguration of the next government, the focus of the mission and all UN agencies in the country will be consolidating the achievements gained so far, he explained.

He cited the disarming of civilians as an essential task in order to reduce insecurity in a country where assaults are commonplace, saying that would contribute to the demobilisation of some 15,000 soldiers.

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