7 December 2007Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proposed replacing the current United Nations operation in Sierra Leone, when it completes its mandate next September, with a leaner integrated office to assist the West African nation in consolidating peace. In his latest report on the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL), Mr. Ban recommends that the current operation be extended for a final period of nine months so that it can continue to assist the Government in supporting the local elections scheduled for next year and in strengthening State institutions.“During this period, UNIOSIL would take steps to progressively reduce its strength with a view to completing its mandate by September 2008,” Mr. Ban writes, adding that he intends to submit proposals concerning the drawdown of the mission, as well as the mandate, structure and strength of the successor office, to the Security Council next April.He notes UNIOSIL continues to help the Government consolidate peace and address a myriad of challenges related to good governance, security, human rights and development. In particular, he recalls the significant role the mission played in presidential and parliamentary elections held on 11 August, which led to the swearing in of President Ernest Bai Koroma, as well as in strengthening the security sector and promoting human rights.But Sierra Leone, working to rebuild after a brutal, 11-year conflict, continues to face “daunting challenges,” says Mr. Ban, drawing attention to widespread poverty, worsening unemployment and rising food prices. “A viable economy that can generate employment and sustainable public revenues has yet to be created.”He also notes this summer’s elections highlighted “deep-seated political tensions and cleavages” among the population along ethnic and geographical lines, warning that these have the potential to escalate in the run-up to next year’s local elections. In addition, the holding of the local elections will require UN assistance given that the National Electoral Commission does not have the required capacity to conduct them.While drawing attention to the progress made in the country’s armed forces and police, the Secretary-General states that both institutions are plagued by logistical deficiencies and inadequate funding from the Government. “Given the ongoing political tensions and lack of economic progress, there is a risk that the fragile peace could unravel if those issues are not addressed on a priority basis,” he stresses.