Today – Tuesday - is an important day for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and in fact for any regional African organization. ECOWAS, with the help of the United States military, will today inaugurate in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the first ECOWAS military depot to bolster its peacekeeping operations in the region. Mohamed Ibn Chambas is the executive secretary of ECOWAS. From the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, he explains to VOA English to Africa reporter James Butty the significance of today’s ceremony.
“As part of our effort to build up our capacity as to peacekeeping in the region, we decided to establish a peacekeeping depot in Sierra Leone, and the government of Sierra Leone has agreed to hand over Hastings Airfield to ECOWAS, and the United States is providing us a substantial equipment to start up this peacekeeping depot.”
Chambas says the new ECOWAS military is also important because it would help solve some of the logistical problems that the sub-region encounters every time it wants undertake any peacekeeping operation.
“As a result of that need, we determined that it would be useful to have a depot on a standing basis operated by ECOWAS. So we engaged in discussions with a number of partners, and the U.S. agreed to handover to ECOWAS all the materials that it supplied to the UN peacekeeping force that was based in Sierra Leone. As the mission was coming to an end, the U.S. took control of the equipment that it supplied and it has now agreed to turn it over to ECOWAS so as to be able to establish this military logistics depot for peacekeeping operations.
“We believe that the presence of the military depot of ECOWAS in Freetown will be a further boost to the consolidation of peace and stability not only in Sierra Leone but in our region as a whole.”
Chambas says the just concluded ECOWAS summit in Abuja, Nigeria on the crisis in Ivory Coast was a success. He says the meeting afforded ECOWAS the opportunity to think about what to do next, especially as President Laurent Gbagbo’s transitional term is set to conclude at the end of this month.
“Some recommendations are being put together. They will be submitted to the African Union’s Peace and Security Council which meets on the 17th of this month in Addis Ababa. I think it puts once again ECOWAS in the driver seat in terms of leading the way to find a political settlement of the crisis, a political arrangement which will work, and I think the message went out, and everybody left the meeting understanding the urgency of the situation, realizing that this kind of long-drawn out crisis should not be allowed to persist much longer and that in the next 12 months we must definitely ensure that elections are held in Cote d’Ivoire, elections that will be credible, transparent, free and fair to bring the crisis to an end.”
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