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UN Maintains Peacekeepers in Sierra Leone - 2002-03-29

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously approved a resolution to keep peacekeepers in Sierra Leone for six more months, aimed at helping the West African country recover from a 10-year civil war.

The Security Council ruled Thursday that the mandate of the U-N Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) will be extended until September 30th. It was to expire Saturday.

The Council urged Sierra Leone's government to speed efforts to extend its authority throughout the country and in particular to the diamond-mining areas that, in the past, enabled rebels to finance arms purchases.

It also welcomed the establishment of an election unit within UNAMSIL to help Sierra Leone prepare for its upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for May 14.

Sierra Leone's civil war ended in May last year when the government and rebels of the Revolutionary United Front signed a peace agreement. However, the war was not formally declared over until January.

The conflict has left tens of thousands dead, injured and maimed.

The United Nations has deployed 17,500 soldiers in Sierra Leone. It is the largest U.N. peace force anywhere in the world.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.