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New Sierra Leone President Discusses Borders, Security on Regional Tour


Sierra Leone's newly elected president Ernest Koroma began his first foreign trip Friday since taking office. He stopped first in Guinea and continued on to Liberia where meetings are planned on bolstering security, among other topics. The border area where Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea meet was wracked by violence during recent civil wars, and instability remains a concern. Kari Barber reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar with additional reporting by Prince Collins in Monrovia.

The diamond-rich Mano River basin where the West African nations meet was a haven and transit point for rebels and mercenaries during recent civil wars.

Activists from the three countries say they want to see their governments work together to control the region, which is still rife with former fighters, and to boost employment there.

Donald Kalokoh, who works with peace-building groups in Sierra Leone, says reviving trust and cooperation among the governments is key.

"For them to come up with a communique, for them to come up with a joint security force that will be deployed to ensure that these borders are well protected," said Kalokoh.

Guinean development worker Mohammed Toure says he wants the governments to deal with endemic unemployment, idle ex-combatants, economic development and other social problems.

Toure says people living in the border region are traumatized by years of war and need help.

Ernest Vafee is a Liberian youth leader in the Mano River Union Youth Parliament, a group that works to create dialogue and trust between the three governments. He says many young people do not have jobs and are most at risk of taking up arms again, so more effort needs to be made to keep them busy.

"We are unveiling opportunities that are available - the private sector, agriculture," said Vafee. "Those areas that can help in leadership so they can evolve as a generation of people that believe in the rule of law."

Sierra Leone just held its first presidential elections since the withdrawal of United Nations troops in 2005. The national police and army were in charge of security for the election which saw street fights between supporters of the rival parties. The clashes have continued even after the election.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council says it is pleased with the progress Liberia has made since its civil war ended in 2003, but will continue to maintain a peacekeeping force there for the time being. The world body says it plans to begin drawing down its 14,000 peacekeepers in the coming months.