UNHCR, West African community to discuss regional co-operation, conflict prevention
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and high ranking officials from the 16-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are meeting in Geneva today (Tuesday) to discuss ways of bringing peace and stability to the western region of Africa troubled by civil strife and refugee crises.
"It is vital that UNHCR and ECOWAS work together to prevent war and instability which are at the root of displacement in the region," said High Commissioner Sadako Ogata. "In many areas we have the same concerns," she added.
Ogata will meet with ECOWAS Executive Secretary, Ambassador Lansana Kouyate, of Guinea and Major General Shelpidi of Nigeria who commands the Community's Military Monitoring Group (ECOMOG).
The Geneva talks follow the annual statutory meeting last month of ECOWAS foreign ministers in Abuja, Nigeria where ECOWAS decided to strengthen and formalise its relations with UNHCR.
The one-day meeting is designed to prepare the ground for a possible joint ECOWAS/UNHCR ministerial gathering in West Africa which would tackle refugee issues and regional strategies for conflict prevention and resolution.
Today's meeting is also expected to address the fledgling peace process in Guinea Bissau where West African peacekeepers are about to be deployed, as well as the difficulties humanitarian agencies have encountered in Liberia and Sierra Leone where both ECOMOG and UNHCR are present.
Ogata said she was pleased with the ECOWAS desire to forge closer ties with UNHCR. "I am encouraged that population movements, conflict prevention and reconciliation preoccupy regional leaders as much as aid agencies," she said.
She said UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies rely heavily on ECOWAS and ECOMOG for efforts to restore peace in several West African countries.
ECOWAS was formed in 1975 to promote economic integration among its 16 member states. But In recent years it has assumed an increasingly important diplomatic and military role. It played a pivotal role in restoring peace and democracy in war-torn Liberia. It helped negotiate a cease-fire in Guinea Bissau and is currently trying to put an end to civil war in Sierra Leone.
The 16 members of ECOWAS are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.