UN Peacebuilding Commission to begin assisting Guinea-Bissau

12 December 2007 –

Guinea-Bissau will become the third country on the agenda of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), the United Nations advisory body set up to help countries emerging from conflict avoid sliding back into war or chaos, after the Security Council backed a request from the Government of the West African country.

Guinea-Bissau is expected to formally join Sierra Leone and Burundi on the Commission’s country-specific workload once the PBC holds consultations next Monday on the Security Council’s referral of the situation.

The referral comes as the Council heard briefings today from Shola Omoregie, the head of the UN Peacebuilding Support in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), and from Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Mr. Costa highlighted the threat that cocaine trafficking is posing to the country and its neighbours in the region, and urged the international community to make sure that Guinea-Bissau receives enough short-term assistance so that it does not collapse.

Since 2005, some 33 tons of cocaine have been seized across West Africa, but Mr. Costa said this may be “only the tip of an iceberg,” adding that in Guinea-Bissau the value of the drug trade is greater than the entire national income.

“Drug money is perverting the economy and rotting society,” he told Council members. “Using threats and bribes, drug traffickers are infiltrating State structures and operating with impunity.”

UNODC said the country’s authorities, particularly its police and justice system, are overwhelmed by the problem and by the alliance between foreign criminal groups and powerful local figures.

Later, in a statement to the press, Ambassador Marcello Spatafora of Italy said Council members renewed their concern about the security threat posed by drug trafficking and organized crime in Guinea-Bissau.

Mr. Spatafora said the 15-member body supported the extension of the mandate of UNOGBIS and also invited the PBC to provide its initial advice on the situation in the country within 90 days.

While it commended the Government’s efforts in pursuing national reconciliation, the press statement stressed the need to hold free and fair legislative elections next year and voiced hope that agreement will be reached soon on a date for the polls.

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