International support for Guinea-Bissau undermined by persistent bitter rifts, UN reports

22 March 2007 – Enduring political and personal rifts are undermining Guinea-Bissau’s efforts to attract regional and international support, public administration and security sector reforms are vital, and international aid is crucial to help the small West African country fight mounting drug trafficking and organized crime, according to a United Nations report released today.

“Persistent and bitter divisions among key national stakeholders, both political and personal, threaten to compromise the independence and authority of two vital State institutions, the judiciary and the legislature,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in the report to the Security Council.

He cites increasingly bitter disputes between the Government and supporters of the Speaker of the National Assembly over the appointment of proxy parliamentarians to replace six opposition legislators, five of whom broke with their party to support the election of President João Bernardo Vieira, whose Government they have since joined.

He also notes the attempted arrest of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior and the disturbances following the killing of former Navy Chief of Staff Lamine Sanhá.

The report covers the latest three months of the work of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), set up in 1999 to help the country emerge from the devastation of a civil war and various coups in which thousands of people were killed, wounded or forced from their homes.

“I have strongly urged all actors to use the proper constitutional channels to resolve their disputes and allow the various State institutions to focus on discharging their functions in the interest of the people of Guinea-Bissau,” Mr. Ban writes.

“Efforts by the Government to take the lead in improving living conditions in the country and to strengthen national reconciliation and democratic governance are unlikely to attract regional and international support if the independence and authority of the judiciary and the legislature are undermined.”

Mr. Ban welcomes “constructive discussions” now underway to strengthen cooperation between the Government and international financial institutions, including emergency post-conflict aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He notes that the Government was commended in the last UN report for its smooth organization of a donors’ conference in November, but adds: “It is vital that the efforts by the Government to implement its reform strategy be maintained, especially those commitments it has undertaken since the conference.

“It is crucial that the Government remain particularly focused on public administration and security sector reforms, which are key platforms for the poverty reduction strategy and the promotion of stability and development.”

The UN will continue to support Government efforts by coordinating aid across a range of activities and providing capacity-building to security sector institutions in the areas of management and oversight, Mr. Ban writes.

He stresses that in security sector reform the Government faces “immense challenges” in combating the growing danger of international drug trafficking and organized crime. “This worrying trend must be reversed, but the Government cannot do that effectively on its own,” he says, noting that the effects of such crime are felt not only in the country but throughout the sub-region and beyond.

“I urge the international community to respond generously to the Government’s appeal for financial and material assistance to help Guinea-Bissau tackle these grave challenges. I urge the Government to continue to show political resolve and determination to fight impunity in general, and organized crime and drug trafficking in particular,” he adds.

Mr. Ban notes that socio-economic situation remains “very fragile,” with most of the financial pledges made at the November donors’ conference outstanding while social tensions continued to rise as trade unions embarked on a series of strikes, protesting, among other issues, salary arrears and the lack of dialogue.

Momentum in security sector reform also stalled, but the recently formed national commission to combat the proliferation of small arms and light weapons has made considerable progress since its inception in October.

On human rights he cites growing concerns among media organs over violations of freedom of the press, with the media coming under increasing criticism from the authorities, who accuse them of abusing press freedoms. “UNOGBIS is pursuing initiatives to provide training in practical skills, ethics and peace issues for journalists, to enable the media to operate more effectively and impartially,” he says.

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