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UN lifts arms embargo on Sierra Leone

The U.N. Security Council is lifting a 13-year-old arms embargo against the small west African nation of Sierra Leone after being assured that the nation is sufficiently stable following the civil war that ended in 2002.

The 15-member council said Wednesday that it was removing the last U.N. sanctions on the country because the government had fully re-established control over its territory and former fighters had been successfully disarmed and demobilized.

Nevertheless, the council agreed that Sierra Leone still needed international support and extended the mandate of the country's U.N. peace building office by one year.

"Today's actions are important milestones in Sierra Leone's long recovery from war," U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Wednesday, adding that the peace building office, "will play a critical role in Sierra Leone's continued progress toward development and stabilization."

The peace building office, launched in October 2008, replaced a U.N. peacekeeping force that disarmed and demobilized more than 75,000 ex-fighters.

Tens of thousands of people were killed in Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war, that was marked by militia members who hacking off the limbs, noses or lips of their victims, and the recruitment of child soldiers.

The U.N. arms embargo was first imposed on Sierra Leone in 1997 after a military coup of the joint forces of the military and revolutionary United Front rebels and ongoing human rights violations.

Security-General Ban Ki-moon warned the council during consultations on Tuesday that political stability could be undermined ahead of national elections in 2012 if the government pursues an inquest into the military junta's 1992 execution of the police inspector-general and 27 other people.

The 1992 executions took place under a military regime that toppled a civilian government led by the All People's Congress. That is the party now led by President Ernest Bai Koroma, who was elected in 2007.

Sierra Leone's Foreign Minister Zainab Bangura told the council on Tuesday that President Koroma is committed to tolerance and democracy, and took note of the U.N. concerns about the inquest.

Complicating Sierra Leone's situation is the vast mineral wealth that once made the country a battlefield over the mining and export of so-called "blood diamonds." Sierra Leone is now about to begin channeling new wealth from the huge Tonkalili iron ore deposits, believed to total 10.5 billion tons.

On another west African country recovering from conflict, the Security Council agreed Wednesday to increase the current U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast by 500 troops to 9,150, to help with security during long-delayed elections now set for Oct. 31. The balloting was originally scheduled for 2005.