UN briefly extends Ivory Coast peacekeeper mandate


The Security Council briefly extended the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast to give time to study proposals to reconfigure the force to help the nation overcome a long political deadlock.

Elections in the world’s top cocoa grower, meant to heal the West African state after a 2002-03 civil war that split it in two, have been delayed repeatedly since 2005. The opposition accuses President Laurent Gbagbo of deliberately stalling the process to extend his mandate.

The United Nations sent in a peacekeeping force, known as UNOCI, after the civil war to monitor a cease-fire and help re-establish peace. It currently consists of some 8500 troops and police.

A Security Council resolution extended the force’s mandate, which had been due to expire next Monday, until June 30, saying the 15-nation body needed to examine thoroughly proposals by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to revise the mandate.

In a report handed to the council last week, Ban said that despite “the temptation to yield to frustration and give up on” Ivory Coast, he did not want to let down the country’s people and waste resources invested so far.

He recommended maintaining UNOCI at its current strength until the end of the year to give Ivory Coast “a chance to walk the final mile to the elections with the full support of the United Nations.”

But he said the mandate needed to be changed to focus on disarmament and reunification of the country, as well as assisting with the elections.

Warning of a “dangerous security situation” in the country because of the electoral delays, Ban recommended concentrating troops in high-risk areas.

This would include moving an extra infantry company to the central city of Bouake, scene of violent demonstrations in February after Gbagbo dissolved the government and the electoral commission.

The presidential elections meant to reunite the country have been constantly delayed by rows over voter registration and rebel disarmament.

Last week, a revived electoral commission began vetting a voter registration list to restart the electoral process. More than 1 million people are being asked to present documents proving their Ivorian citizenship, amid accusations by Gbagbo’s government that the list has been stacked with opponents.

Analysts say smooth elections are key to reviving investment in Ivory Coast, once a leading West African economy.

Source: www.af.reuters.com