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UN to Increase Peacekeeping Force in Ivory Coast

The U.N. Security Council is boosting the size of the Ivory Coast peacekeeping force in advance of October elections. The increase of less than 1,000 additional peacekeepers is half what had been requested.

The Security Council has agreed to add 850 troops and more than 350 police officers to the 6,000 peacekeepers already in Ivory Coast. A vote authorizing the increase is set for Friday.

With parts of the West African country under military rule, and ethnic tensions simmering, Secretary-General Kofi Annan had asked for 2,000 additional troops.

After meeting Security Council ambassadors Thursday, Mr. Annan's special envoy Pierre Schori said any reinforcements are welcome. But he made no secret of his disappointment, saying the smaller increase would make it harder to quell violence and create conditions for elections in October.

"We need desperately reinforcements," he said. "We need it in order to prevent and deter further tragedies as we have seen in the west of the country recently with massacres and almost 200 dead. We need it to stop infiltration from neighboring countries of child soldiers, recycled militia from other conflicts, and to be able to provide security and protection for election campaign."

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, this month's Security Council president, says he is still hopeful 2,000 additional peacekeepers will be on the ground in Ivory Coast in time for elections.

He said the decision to send a smaller force immediately was a compromise with Council members, including the United States, concerned about the spiraling cost of peacekeeping operations. Washington pays 27percent of the U.N. peacekeeping budget.

"This is probably the best outcome. It's not the outcome we would have wished. We were asking for more, but this is the result of a discussion in council, and it is the best compromise we could have," he noted.

In his latest report on Ivory Coast, Secretary-General Annan says ethnic tensions have created a "deteriorating macroeconomic environment" in what once was a beacon of stability in West Africa. The country remains the world's number one cocoa producer, and accounts for 40 percent of the West African economy, but Special Envoy Schori says he is worried about a possible economic meltdown unless stability can be restored.

"And because of the crisis and war, the economy has contracted considerably and the poverty line has increased," he explained. "Up to 44 percent of the population live under the poverty line, and it was 38 in 1999. The cocoa business being disrupted by Mafioso tactics, the war, profiteers, racketeers, so there lack of rule of law also."

Mr. Schori accused Ivory Coast's political leaders of a lack of will to end years of civil war in the country. He said it is still possible to hold elections in October, as scheduled, but warned, "we are running out of time."

Increasing violence and ethnic tensions have undermined a peace deal brokered in April by South African President Thabo Mbeki. The government and rebels have agreed to meet in Pretoria next week in an attempt to revive the peace process.