The United Nations has established a new Peacebuilding Commission to assist countries recovering from the ravages of war.  The commission will focus its initial efforts on two African countries, Burundi and Sierra Leone.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan inaugurated the newly created commission, calling it a "unique intergovernmental body; the first devoted specifically to peacebuilding."

He said it will attempt to address a perplexing paradox: countries trying to recover from one war have a tendency to slip into another.

"We have seen an unacceptable number of peace agreements disintegrate within five years after the end of a civil war, with countries lapsing back into deadly conflict," said Mr. Annan.

Mr. Annan pointed to East Timor, also known as Timor Leste, as an example of a country that saw the promise of peace and stability dissolve in a bout of rioting in April, only a year after a U.N. peacekeeping mission was shut down.

"As we have just seen in Timor Leste, undue haste to disengage from a transitional situation can result in reversals and a need to redeploy, at great cost to all, particularly the hapless victims," he added.

The new commission is expected to focus much of its early work on Africa. The first candidates for its attention are Burundi, where a tentative peace deal last week raised hopes for an end to a 13-year civil war; and Sierra Leone, which has struggled to return to stability, following a decade-long conflict that ended in 2002.

Angola's U.N. ambassador, Ismael Gaspar Martins, was elected the commission chairman. He called it fitting that Angola, a country with a recent history of war, should be chosen to head a body aimed at helping countries in similar situations break the cycle of conflict.

"As the representative of a country, which is in the process of overcoming the negative consequences of many years of conflict, and from a continent with the largest number of countries in post-conflict situations, this choice is to me a symbolic recognition of the purposes for which our leaders decided to establish the Peacebuilding Commission," he said.

U.N. diplomats say a third African country, Liberia, is also a candidate for the attention of the Peacebuilding Commission, along with East Timor and Haiti.

The United States welcomed establishment of the new commission. A statement issued by the State Department said,  "We look forward to working with other members of the commission to make it a success, and help countries move past the cycle of conflict."