UN mandate in I Coast renewed

New York - The UN Security Council extended the mandate of peacekeepers in Ivory Coast and French forces backing them until the end of the year, expanding it to help organise long-postponed elections.

In a unanimously adopted resolution, the council renewed the mandate that was due to expire on Wednesday, maintaining current personnel levels -8 650 staff, including 7 392 troops and 1 250 police officers.

The 15-member body said it was ready to consider dispatching an additional 500 troops and police to support UNOCI's mandate before and after the elections.

In his latest report released in May, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recommended maintaining the current overall levels of ONUCI staff until the end of this year in order to give the west African country "a chance to walk the final mile to the elections" with full support from the United Nations.

The council thus mandated the mission to also assist in organising free and fair Ivorian presidential elections and help provide population identification.

A presidential election due in 2005 never took place because of the crisis in the cocoa-rich country, and Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has remained in power ever since while the vote has been postponed six times.

The council resolution "authorises UNOCI to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate, within its capabilities and its areas of deployment" and urged all parties to co-operate fully with UNOCI and its French military partners.

Under the resolution, UNOCI will facilitate the peace process and help provide security for the elections, including by contributing "to securing the high risks areas where voting is to take place".

Ban has also backed a "rationalisation and reconfiguration" of the force aimed at boosting UN troop concentrations in high-risk areas, such as in the northern stronghold of the former rebel New Forces (FN) in Bouake.

Political tensions began to mount after voter registration was suspended due to violence and Gbagbo dissolved the government and the Independent Electoral Commission in February.

Ivory Coast has been split in half since a foiled coup against Gbagbo in 2002. The FN mainly holds the north, while the south is largely in the hands of supporters of Gbagbo's Ivorian Patriotic Front.

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