UN reduces peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Security Council on Tuesday welcomed progress toward restoring peace in Ivory Coast following the violent post-election crisis two years ago and reduced the size of the U.N. peacekeeping force in the West African country.

A resolution adopted unanimously by the council commended efforts by President Alassane Ouattara to stabilize security and promote economic recovery.

But it said security remains fragile, especially along the border with Liberia, and expressed concern at the unresolved key challenges of disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating 65,000 former combatants and reforming the security sector.

The resolution extended the mandate of the U.N. force in Ivory Coast, known as UNOCI, until June 30, 2014, and reduced its military personnel from the current limit of 10,400 to 7,137 — comprising 6,945 troops and staff officers, and 192 military observers. It kept the mission’s international police force at its current ceiling of 1,555.

The council said it intends to consider a further reduction in the force — possibly to 5,437 in 2015 — “based on the evolution of security conditions on the ground and an improved capacity of the government of Ivory Coast to gradually take over UNOCI’s security role.”

The Security Council said the protection of civilians “shall remain the priority of UNOCI” and it ordered the force to put renewed focus on supporting government efforts to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate ex-combatants and collect weapons.

The council also extended the authorization that it provides to French forces in Ivory Coast to support UNOCI until June 30, 2014.

Ivory Coast headed to the brink of civil war in early 2011 when then-president Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede defeat after losing a presidential runoff vote to Ouattara. After months of violence, Ouattara took office in May 2011.

The Security Council expressed concern at continuing reports of human rights abuses including increased incidents of sexual violence, especially by armed men, and urged that these alleged crimes be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice “irrespective of their political affiliation.”

It emphasized “the urgent need for the government to accelerate the training and equipping of its security forces, especially the police and gendarmerie with standard policing weapons and ammunition.”

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