UN Says West African Stability Faces Threat

Published January 7, 2010

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said unconstitutional changes of government and undemocratic practices in West Africa pose a potential threat to peace and stability in the region.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Wednesday, Ban cited the military coup in Guinea and the mass killing of opposition protesters, the unfolding constitutional crisis in Niger, rising tensions and opposition threats to boycott next month's presidential election in Togo, and repeated delays in setting a date for elections in Ivory Coast.

Guinea has been in limbo since junta leader Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara — who took power in a military coup in December 2008 — was shot Dec. 3 by the head of his presidential guard who said Camara wanted him to take the blame for the September massacre. Ban said his West African envoy, Said Djinnit, will continue supporting mediation between the government and opposition to try to resolve the crisis.

"The deteriorating situation in Guinea could have far-reaching implications for the fragile peace processes in Guinea's neighbors ... and for the stability of the subregion as a whole," the secretary-general said, singling out Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Ban said the U.N. Office for West Africa, which promotes peace-building activities in the region's 15 countries with more than 250 million inhabitants, will undertake "a broad analysis of unconstitutional changes of government in West Africa."

The analysis, which will be carried out in cooperation with the West African regional group ECOWAS and the African Union, will focus on ways to promote good governance and prevent constitutional violations, he said.

"The resurgence of unconstitutional changes of government and undemocratic practices in West Africa constitutes a potential threat to subregional peace and stability," Ban warned.

In the report, the secretary-general said the combined effects of the international financial crisis, natural disasters, food insecurity, high population growth and exceptionally high unemployment rates especially among youth continue to have "a negative impact on West African economies, undermine economic growth and social development and threaten regional peace and security."

The region also has been seriously harmed by climate change, including widespread drought and recent floods that were among the worst ever experienced, Ban said. More than 800,000 people were affected by the floods and 195 deaths were reported, according to official records, he said.

While ECOWAS has made "substantial progress" in tackling drug trafficking and organized crime, the secretary-general said the discovery of clandestine laboratories and "the unprecedented seizures of cocaine and ecstasy processing equipment" in the region show that drug cartels may be using West Africa not only as a drug transit point but for narcotics production as well.

"This constitutes a most alarming trend and a potentially serious destabilizing factor and threat to West African populations," he said.

Ban said an additional concern is that the Sahel, the semiarid region south of the Sahara, "increasingly serves as a breeding ground for terrorist networks and rebel groups, with an apparent interconnectedness between drug trafficking and terrorist and criminal activities."

In the coming months, the secretary-general said the U.N. office will focus on improving electoral processes and reforming police and security institutions in the region, and it will continue to work to prevent drug trafficking and cross-border organized crime.

Written by <P>By Associated Press</P>

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