February 3, 2012 / 10:38 AM / 6 years ago

UN mission chief leaves Sierra Leone before polls

FREETOWN (Reuters) - The United Nations announced the head of its mission in Sierra Leone will leave the West African country on Monday, seven months before the end of his assignment and in the run-up to November’s presidential election.

No reason was given for the sudden departure of Michael von der Schulenburg, a German-born diplomat who U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commended in a statement late on Thursday for “excellent service” since he was appointed in 2009.

Schulenburg has for months been the victim of a local media slur campaign. However the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma issued a denial only last week of reports that he had been declared a persona non grata.

That statement said Sierra Leone had enjoyed a “very cordial and fruitful relationship” with Schulenburg while noting that “U.N. diplomats could sometimes be recalled at very short notice”.

Schulenburg, who was not immediately available for comment, has served in some of the world’s toughest trouble spots, including Haiti, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Along with other international officials in Sierra Leone, he has argued that there should be no inquest into the actions of ex-junta leader Maada Bio during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Bio is to stand against Koroma in November’s election.

The poll is a key milestone on the way to Sierra Leone’s recovery from the war. It comes as it steps up production of iron ore seen as helping its gross domestic product to jump by as much as 50 percent this year.

U.N. peacekeeping troops withdrew from Sierra Leone in 2005 but the body retains a 200-head mission with a mandate to help ensure the election is peaceful and credible.

Reporting by Simon Akam; additional reporting and writing by Mark John in Dakar

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