22 April 2008Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today pledged the continued assistance of the United Nations to Liberia, which he said has made great strides in recovering from a brutal decade-long civil war, but still faces daunting challenges in areas such as security, rule of law and development, as he wrapped up a visit to the West African nation. “I have come to Liberia to see at first hand the remarkable achievements your country has made in recovering from a devastating conflict. And I have come to reassure the Liberian people of my steadfast commitment to peace, stability and prosperity in your nation,” Mr. Ban said in an address to a joint session of the Liberian legislature in the capital, Monrovia.“As the most representative legislature in the history of this country, you have a unique chance to build a national vision for a secure, peaceful and prosperous Liberia – one that provides opportunities for all its citizens,” he said.Mr. Ban outlined several areas where further progress is needed, including reforming the legal and judicial system and extending the rule of law throughout the country. He said more also needs to be done to reintegrate populations affected by war and promote reconciliation and national unity, as well as ensure economic development. “Delivering the peace dividend in these areas is necessary to underpin the stability that Liberia currently enjoys,” he noted. “In this and other challenges confronting Liberia, the entire United Nations family will work with you,” the Secretary-General pledged.The UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has begun the first phase of its drawdown process, and the Security Council will decide on the next phase after reviewing the progress made by the Government in meeting certain key benchmarks. Mr. Ban said his recommendations to the Council on the drawdown will be linked to the Government’s ability to assume full responsibility for its national security. “Our common strategic goal is to ensure that Liberia has a solid security sector – one that can stand on its own feet before UNMIL completes its withdrawal.”The Secretary-General also drew attention to surge in food prices, a major concern not only for Liberia, but also for the region and the world as a whole. Speaking to reporters later in the day, he said that “the recent worldwide protests over soaring global food prices have demonstrated the need for Liberia to meet the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] in order to be safe from the weaknesses of globalization while taking advantage from its myriad opportunities for growth and prosperity.” He added that it is regrettable that rape continues to be the most commonly committed crime in Liberia, and he called on community leaders, Government leaders, traditional chiefs, elders and prominent Liberians to take the lead in combating the scourge of rape and other acts of sexual and gender-based violence. Recently the UN joined forces with the Liberian Government and civil society groups in a nationwide anti-rape campaign.Upon arrival in Monrovia yesterday the Secretary-General was greeted by an honour guard and received the traditional Liberian gift of a live chicken and an egg, as well as a key to the city, making him an honorary citizen of the Liberian capital. He met this morning with Vice President Joseph Boakai, and with members of the cabinet, with whom he discussed the recovery efforts since the war and the challenges ahead for Liberia as well as the peacebuilding projects under way.Mr. Ban is now in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where this evening he will meet with President Blaise Compaoré and Prime Minister Tertius Zongo. Burkina Faso is the third leg of a four-nation West Africa tour that began in Ghana and will conclude in Côte d’Ivoire.