UN mandate in Ivory Coast renewed for one month

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The Security Council Thursday extended by one month the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Ivory Coast and the French forces backing them, pending reconfiguration of a force tasked with helping prepare long-delayed polls.

The 15-member body unanimously backed a technical rollover of the mandate of the UN force known as ONUCI and of the French backup contingent until June 30. It was to expire Monday.

Diplomats said the council wanted to use the interval to mull recommendations made by UN chief Ban Ki-moon regarding ONUCI's future role.

In his latest report released this week, Ban recommended maintaining the current total overall strength of ONUCI's military and police components until the end of this year in order to give the west African country "a chance to walk the final mile to the elections" with full UN support.

A presidential election due in 2005 never took place because of the crisis in the cocoa-rich country, and Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has remained in power ever since while the vote has been postponed six times.

ONUCI currently fields 8,650 personnel -- 7,392 troops and 1,250 police -- who are backed by a separate 900-strong French military contingent.

The UN secretary general backs a "rationalization and reconfiguration" of the force aimed at boosting UN troop concentrations in high-risk areas, such as in the northern stronghold of the former rebel New Forces (FN) in Bouake.

Ban also seeks a greater balance between the military and police components in anticipation of civil unrest and increased calls for protection during the run-up to the elections.

For that reason, Ban also wants an additional 500 soldiers and police for at least three months before and three months after the polls.

Political tensions began to mount after voter registration was suspended due to violence and Gbagbo dissolved the government and the Independent Electoral Commission in February.

Ivory Coast has been split in half since a foiled coup against Gbagbo in 2002. The FN mainly holds the north, while the south is largely in the hands of supporters of Gbagbo's Ivorian Patriotic Front.

© 2010 AFP

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