Deputy Secretary-General says divisions, violence in Sierra Leone must be "relegated to the past, once and for all"
Following is the text of Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fr,chette's remarks to a donor's conference on Sierra Leone, which will be held in London on 27 March:
It is an honour to co-chair this important meeting on behalf of the United Nations. I would like to begin by thanking Minister Clare Short and the Government of the United Kingdom for undertaking this critical initiative to mobilize the international political support and resources needed to keep the peace process in Sierra Leone on track.
Much is at stake, first and foremost for the men, women and children of Sierra Leone, who after nearly a decade of brutal civil war have a real chance of realizing their hopes for peace and development. But as we have seen in recent months, this is proving to be an arduous process. Healing deep psychological wounds and rebuilding ravaged infrastructure will take time, patience and, above all, a considerable amount of resolve on behalf of the Government and the people of Sierra Leone. His Excellency President Kabbah is showing the difference that leadership can make in such difficult circumstances, and his role will continue to be critical in strengthening a fragile peace and in inspiring people in the midst of their suffering.
Much is also at stake for the international community. The United Nations system, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), bilateral donors, non-governmental organizations and others have made significant investments -- and in the case of ECOWAS, considerable sacrifices -- in the cause of peace in Sierra Leone. The Security Council has authorized deployment of a peacekeeping force of more than 11,000 military personnel, currently the largest United Nations operation in the world. Humanitarian relief is being provided to hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans inside and outside of the country. Programmes to build Government capacity in a range of vital areas are being put in place. And a programme of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration aims to help tens of thousands of combatants make the transition from military to civilian life.
But if this wide-ranging involvement is to bear fruit, the international community must intensify its efforts. Having taken on this responsibility, we can ill afford the price of failure -- neither in terms of human suffering in Sierra Leone, nor in terms of the damage such a setback could inflict on the world's faith in the international community's ability to address conflicts in Africa and elsewhere.
Our success will depend on many factors and many actors. Chief among the latter are the signatories to the Lom, agreement. They must demonstrate the political will and inclination to work with the United Nations and the international community to keep the peace process moving forward. In particular, there is an urgent need for security and unhindered country-wide access for peacekeepers, aid workers, government officials and civilians. The parties to the Lom, agreement, and in particular the Revolutionary United Front, must fully and immediately implement these essential aspects of the agreement.
The international community, for its part, must show not only that it is committed to Sierra Leone for the long term, but even more importantly that it can work in unison -- that all stakeholders can come together to articulate a common strategy and then pull together to implement it. The situation in Sierra Leone is fragile -- fragile enough that there is the risk we could lose the peace if we do not cooperate, communicate and coordinate fully. This meeting offers a welcome opportunity for all involved to pledge themselves to just such a unified plan of action, with real commitment and real resources. I would like to assure all of you that the United Nations system, for its part, is strongly committed to working in an integrated, coherent fashion. That indeed is the essence of the Secretary-General's reform programme. And it is how we must act now if we are to buttress the peace in Sierra Leone and help its people chart a new course for their nation.
The Secretary-General, in his latest report to the Security Council, has already laid the groundwork for such an approach, focusing on four key and inter- related objectives: first, the early disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of all ex-combatants; second, the extension of state authority throughout the country; third, national reconciliation and democratization; and fourth, the improvement of Sierra Leone's capacity to ensure its own security. Progress towards these key objectives in the months ahead is an essential condition for the organization of credible parliamentary and presidential elections early next year, and all of this would in turn set the stage for the country's economic recovery. The interdependence among these issues is clear; progress in one fosters progress in another, while a setback in one can undermine progress in the others. We must move ahead, decisively, on all fronts.
The leadership displayed by the United Kingdom in convening this conference, and the presence here today of President Kabbah and representatives of so many donor States and other key players, maintains the momentum that has brought us this far. The Secretary-General would also wish to express his appreciation for the important role played by West African leaders, in particular President Konar, of Mali, the present Chairman of ECOWAS. Credit is due as well to the troop contributors of the Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) and the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and to all others involved in efforts to bring peace to Sierra Leone -- efforts that merit your generous support.
The United Nations operation in Sierra Leone is the first large-scale international intervention in Africa since those in Angola, Rwanda and Somalia. As such, it is an important test case for the international community. If we succeed in Sierra Leone, it is possible that out of this tragic war -- out of some of the most appalling human rights violations the world has witnessed in recent years -- might spring real hope for the resolution of other conflicts, on the African continent and beyond. We must, therefore, get it right.
The divisions and violence that fuelled the war in Sierra Leone must be relegated to the past, once and for all. We here at this conference, through pledges of resources and other concrete expressions of support, have an opportunity to help shape a better future for Sierra Leone. That is serious, urgent work, so let us get down to business, and let us do so as a team.