1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1734 (2006), by which the Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) until 31 December 2007, and requested me to keep it regularly informed of progress made in the implementation of the mandate of the Office. The present report provides an update on major developments in Sierra Leone and the activities of UNIOSIL since my report of 28 November (S/2006/922).
II. Major developments
2. Sierra Leone continued to make progress in the peace consolidation process. The capacity of the national institutions responsible for conducting the July 2007 presidential and parliamentarian elections and that of the security sector was further enhanced. Nonetheless, the Government still faces serious capacity constraints and continues to require external assistance. The socio-economic situation in Sierra Leone remains difficult. Poverty and unemployment, particularly among the young, continue to be widespread, while the Government's ability to deliver basic services to the population remains weak.
3. The registration of voters for the elections commenced on 26 February and was completed on 18 March 2007. Within the framework of its assistance programme for the National Electoral Commission, the United Nations provided the Commission with considerable policy, technical and financial support. In spite of the logistical complexity of the voter registration exercise and the Commission's limited operational capacity, the registration was a success. Some 2.6 million, or 91 per cent, of the eligible voters have registered, with women accounting for 48 per cent of the registered voters and youth below the age of 32 accounting for 56 per cent of those registered.
4. The high voter registration turnout was largely due to the country-wide campaign of civic education carried out by the National Electoral Commission, mobilization of the electorate by political parties and non-governmental organizations and the active involvement of the media, including United Nations Radio. In spite of some complaints, the main political parties expressed satisfaction with the conduct and outcome of the registration exercise. This success has contributed to the reinforcing of the credibility of the overall electoral process.
5. Over the past few months, political parties have stepped up their electoral campaigning activities. In this regard, it is encouraging to note that campaigning has been characterized by an increased spirit of tolerance and civic responsibility. This is also due to the intensive civic education campaign and capacity-building efforts conducted by the National Electoral Commission and the Political Parties Registration Commission. In addition, UNIOSIL and the United Nations country team provided senior officials of the major political parties with training in conflict mitigation and dispute prevention.
6. On 23 November 2006, the Political Parties Registration Commission, with UNIOSIL support, developed a Political Parties Code of Conduct for the elections. All major political parties, including the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party, the All People's Congress and the People's Movement for Democratic Change, have agreed to comply with the Code. This was an important development, as the Code provides for a monitoring and enforcement mechanism to address irregularities and complaints in campaigning. Also, on 17 March, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, with the assistance of UNIOSIL and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), concluded a Media Code of Conduct. Under this Code, major national media institutions have agreed to exercise self-restraint and accepted monitoring of their performance by an independent panel. This positive development will help ensure more objective and professional media coverage of the elections.
7. Following the 12 December 2006 country-specific meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission on Sierra Leone, the country's engagement with the Commission has intensified. In January 2007, the Commission adopted a six-month workplan for Sierra Leone and agreed to develop an integrated peacebuilding compact with the Government of Sierra Leone. This compact is expected to provide a framework for the mutual commitments of the Government and the international community, assist the Government in addressing its peacebuilding priorities, as endorsed by the Commission, and help ensure a coherent and coordinated approach in addressing gaps in critical peacebuilding areas.
8. In February 2007, the Peacebuilding Support Office fielded a technical mission to Sierra Leone to assist the Government and key stakeholders in finalizing Sierra Leone's priority plan for the Peacebuilding Fund. Subsequently, on 1 March, I approved a country envelope of $35 million from the Peacebuilding Fund to support Sierra Leone's priority peacebuilding projects. The implementation of these projects is expected to commence in May.
9. Representatives of the Peacebuilding Commission also visited Sierra Leone from 20 to 25 March to assess progress and the remaining challenges in the peace consolidation process. During the visit, the Commission and the Government agreed to work together to complete the integrated peacebuilding compact by June, so that it could be endorsed by the new Government, following the July elections. In order to assist the Government in developing the compact, a multidisciplinary technical mission, comprising the Peacebuilding Support Office, UNDP, and the Department of Political Affairs, visited Sierra Leone in the second half of April.
10. During the reporting period, the potential impact of the political crisis in Guinea on the fragile stability of Sierra Leone was a source of serious concern. To help stabilize the situation, on 20 February, Presidents Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah of Sierra Leone and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia visited Conakry and discussed ways of resolving the crisis with President Lansana Conté of Guinea. This visit was an important demonstration of the commitment by the leaders of the Mano River Union countries to maintaining peace and stability in the subregion.
11. On 30 April, a meeting of the Heads of State of the Mano River Union was held in Conakry to discuss the disputed area of Yenga at the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone. The summit confirmed the need to continue close consultations among the regional leaders in order to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
III. Security situation
12. The security situation in Sierra Leone has remained stable but fragile during the reporting period. The high rates of youth unemployment, persistent negative public perceptions about the lack of accountability by the authorities, the weak justice system and the lack of improvement in the living standards of the overwhelming majority of the population remain the key threats to the country's fragile stability.
13. In late April, there were a number of fire outbreaks reported in the southern province, which appeared to be caused by arson, and which resulted in a significant destruction of property and displacement of residents. On 23 April, some 50 houses were burned down in one village in the Pujehun District. It is not clear, however, whether these acts were politically motivated, although electoral campaigning by political parties has been particularly intense in this province. The Sierra Leone Police are investigating these incidents.
14. From 22 to 28 January, the United Nations Mission in Liberia successfully conducted a periodic training exercise in support of security of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.