UN extends peacekeeping mandate

The United Nations Security Council voted on Thursday to keep peacekeepers in Sierra Leone for six more months, through the West African nation’s first presidential elections since the end of a 10-year civil war, The Associated Press reported.

Sierra Leone has been torn apart by war since 1991, when rebels of the Revolutionary United Front launched an insurgency to oust the government and take over the nation’s lucrative diamond fields. The war was officially declared over on Jan. 18.

Under the council resolution, adopted unanimously, the largest U.N. peacekeeping operation in the world today-17,500 soldiers-will remain in Sierra Leone for six more months. Its mandate was to have expired March 30. Sierra Leone will hold presidential elections May 14, AP reported.

The council stressed the importance of holding “free, fair and transparent elections” and welcomed the progress made by the government in registering voters, AP reported.

Sierra Leone and the United Nations agreed earlier this month to create a special war crimes tribunal to prosecute those who committed atrocities during the civil war.

RUF rebels became notorious for their brutality, killing and raping thousands of civilians and cutting off the limbs of thousands of others.

Foday Sankoh, the leader of the rebel group, has been imprisoned since May 2000 and is expected to be among the first people tried by the special tribunal.