7 October 2008 The impact of the illicit drug trade on Guinea-Bissau should not be underestimated, the top United Nations political official said today, warning that the scourge threatens to undo the important progress achieved by the post-conflict nation.
“Although Guinea-Bissau has come a long way since the civil war of the late 1990s, all of the gains achieved to this point in establishing democratic governance and stability in the country will be at risk is this menace is not confronted head on,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told a meeting of the Security Council.
Mr. Pascoe noted that various sources, including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNOThe drug trafficking threat is a major challenge to Guinea-Bissau and to its neighboursDC), have reported that Guinea-Bissau is fast becoming a strategic link in the transport of illegal narcotics from South America to Europe.
“The potentially damaging impact of this illegal trade, including its corrupting influence on the country’s fragile institutions, should not be underestimated,” he told the 15-member body.
In his recent report on peacebuilding efforts in Guinea-Bissau, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the Security Council to adopt strong measures and consider dispatching a team of experts to investigate the identity and activities of those involved in drug trafficking and organized crime in the country.
Mr. Pascoe said the Council’s endorsement of this recommendation would add “momentum for action” in advance of the high-level conference to be convened later this month by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to address drug trafficking in the region.
“The drug trafficking threat is a major challenge to Guinea-Bissau and to its neighbours, many of which are still recovering from long periods of civil conflicts,” he stated.
“As the United Nations continues to contribute to the consolidation of the fragile peace processes in those countries to prevent a relapse into new cycles of instability, we believe that tackling the emerging new danger of drug trafficking vigorously and resolutely is essential for the success of ongoing peacebuilding initiatives,” he added.
A crucial test for Guinea-Bissau’s peacebuilding efforts will be the holding of legislative elections scheduled for 16 November, particularly in light of the continuing political and security tensions in the country.
Mr. Pascoe reported that preparations for the polls are on track but added that there is an “uneasy calm” in the West African nation as the elections approach. Authorities announced in early August they had uncovered an attempted coup by the Navy Chief of Staff, and security forces are stepping up checks to ensure that a peaceful election. In addition, Guinea-Bissau’s difficulty in paying the salaries of public officials in a timely manner is exacerbating social, political and security tensions.
“Those payments are now reportedly two months in arrears, raising concerns that if not addressed, this matter could create social instability prior to or during the elections,” Mr. Pascoe cautioned, adding that the situation has been worsened by high food and fuel prices in the small, poor nation.
Despite the challenges it faces, Guinea-Bissau is making steady progress in its efforts to rebuild after years of conflict, the UN political chief stated, noting the recent advances made in the country by the UN Peacebuilding Commission, established in 2005 to help post-conflict countries avoid slipping back into turmoil.
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