Press Releases

                                                                                                                            26 March 2004

    Multifaceted Regional Approach Needed to Combat Subregional, Cross-Border Problems in West Africa, Secretary-General Tells Security Council Debate on Issue

    NEW YORK, 25 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks today by Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the open debate of the Security Council on “Ways to combat subregional and cross-border problems in West Africa”:

    I would like to welcome the Foreign Ministers, including the French Minister who is in the chair and the Foreign Minister of Ghana and Mr. Chambas, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  Mr. Wilzer, it is very good to see you here and see you presiding over this meeting and I would also want to begin by saying to my compatriot, Nana Akufo Addo, “akwaaba”.  “Akwaaba” meaning welcome.

    ECOWAS has recently taken important initiatives to tackle the serious challenges to peace and security faced by the people of West Africa.  As the Security Council has acknowledged, these initiatives have demonstrated the resolve of Africans to settle African problems -- in cooperation with the international community.

    This open debate is another significant step in the Council’s efforts to promote a regional approach to those challenges, and yet another illustration of the good working relationship between the Council and ECOWAS member States.

    The report before you is the first one devoted specifically to cross-border problems in the subregion.

    The report’s recommendations are practical.

    They have been grouped not in order of priority, but rather broad thematic headings such as security sector reform, disarmament, extortion, “naming and shaming” and the proliferation of small arms.

    They are not a “shopping list” for donors, but rather a call to action.

    As such, they are directed at a wide range of players, including the Security Council and other parts of the United Nations system, bilateral and multilateral development partners, the ECOWAS Secretariat, individual Member States in West Africa, civil society organizations, and non-State actors such as suppliers of small arms and light weapons.

    The overarching theme is that, if we want the region’s problems to be dealt with in an effective and sustainable manner, these recommendations cannot be carried out solely on a country-by-country basis.  Their implementation requires a multi-faceted regional approach.

    At the same time, it is clear that certain issues have a particularly strong bearing on security and stability, without which no other progress would be possible.  Special attention should therefore be paid to the proliferation of small arms, the illegal exploitation of natural resources, and the use of child soldiers and mercenaries, as well as to roadblocks that greatly impede the movement of persons and goods in the subregion.

    With this in mind, and to build on this report and meeting, I have asked my Special Representative for West Africa, Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who is with us today, to convene a meeting in the region in the near future to explore how best ECOWAS and the relevant United Nations entities can move ahead.

    One important step forward has already been taken with the new arrangement whereby all my Special Representatives and Force Commanders in the subregion meet at regular intervals, under the chairmanship of Mr. Ould-Abdallah.  In the same context, Mr. Ould-Abdallah will also be doing more to promote synergies between the UN’s peace operations and its humanitarian and development efforts.

    The root causes of the region’s problems, and indeed of the conflicts that spawn or exacerbate them, were beyond the report’s scope.  But as we all know, those root causes are linked above all to questions of governance, human rights and transparency.  Regrettably, such abuses are all too prevalent in the region.  Until they are addressed with real resolve, until there is a fundamental break with authoritarianism and the culture of violence, exclusion and impunity, I fear that whatever inroads we manage to make in handling cross-border problems will remain just that -- temporary inroads, and fragile at best.

    Therefore I urge the governments of the region to build on the gains they have recently made, and establish solidly democratic institutions and effective regional organizations.  West Africa is blessed with a vibrant civil society that has wide-ranging experience in conflict prevention, peace-building and development.  States must draw on their experience in addressing their problems.

    I also urge the international community to respond with all possible assistance, including politically.

    Finally, for its part, the United Nations will continue its efforts to work better as a team to support the wishes of the region’s people, and to strengthen cooperation with ECOWAS in pursuit of our shared goal of peace, stability and development.

    Let us all do our utmost to bring genuine change and hope into the lives of people, throughout the region, who are struggling to move beyond today’s suffering and reach better days.

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