The U.N. Security Council has voted to renew its Liberian peacekeeping mission for six months, rejecting a request by Secretary General Kofi Annan for a one-year extension. The country's first post-war elections are set for next month, but some experts say an international presence will be needed for years to come.
The extension approved Monday at U.N. headquarters in New York assures that peacekeepers will remain for the critical periods during and after Liberia's October elections that will bring an end to the term of a transitional government.
The renewal of the mandate falls short of Kofi Annan's proposal for another year, a request that a U.N. spokesman in Monrovia, Paul Risley, says had been hoped for by many within the mission.
"The U.N. mission here in Liberia very much echoed the request by the Secretary-General that this mission be extended for at least another year," said Paul Risley. "The Security Council has to operate according to the budget."
With around 15,000 troops on the ground, Liberia's peacekeeping mission is the largest in the world.
The Security Council has also asked Mr. Annan to prepare a timetable for a force reduction by March.
Mr. Risley says the mission will begin looking at what personnel could be scaled back. But he cautions against viewing the move as the beginning of a U.N. pullout.
"Peace and security are just one aspect of the work of both the U.N. and the international community in Liberia," he said. "And clearly, for the real reconstruction, for [a] final ending to the poverty and to the hunger that so many Liberians face every day, this will be a long term engagement."
The head of the Africa program for the Brussels-based research institution, International Crisis Group, Suliman Baldo, says such an engagement is essential if Liberia is to recover from more a decade of civil war.
"The international community needs to accompany the Liberian transition by making a long term commitment, longer definitely than what is expressed now," said Suliman Baldo. "A period of stabilization of five years is not sufficient to address the root causes of conflict and trouble in that country."
Mr. Baldo says with its destroyed economy, non-existent infrastructure, and unemployment topping 80 percent, Security Council members must not be overly eager to withdraw troops.
"If the U.N. withdraws too quickly, then they may be called upon to return in a couple of years to mop up again after a bloody civil war," he said. "This is what happened last time, because the problem was not addressed seriously."
Parliamentary elections and the first round of a presidential poll are scheduled for October 11.
The expected frontrunner in the poll, former soccer star George Weah said this week that, if elected, he would ask peacekeepers to remain until 2010. Other candidates have said they want peacekeepers to stay for now.