By Edith M Lederer

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to maintain diamond and timber sanctions against Liberia, but said it will lift the embargoes when the country's new government ends the illicit trade in its valuable resources.

The council said Liberia's recent peaceful elections were an important step in the country's progress "towards lasting peace and stability" and welcomed President-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's commitment to rebuild the country and meet the conditions to lift the sanctions.

The resolution adopted by the council underlined "its determination to support the new government of Liberia in its efforts to meet those conditions" and encouraged donors to do likewise.

In May, 2001, the Security Council approved arms and diamond embargoes against Liberia and imposed a travel ban on Liberians in former President Charles Taylor's government who helped rebels in Sierra Leone.

A new ban on the timber trade took effect in July 2003.

The resolution extended the diamond and timber sanctions for six months. It extended the arms embargo and travel ban for a year.

Taylor fled into exile in August 2003, paving the way for a transitional government which will hand over power to Johnson-Sirleaf on January 16. She will become the first-ever elected female head of an African nation.

The Security Council called on the international donor community to support the incoming government "by providing generous assistance to the peace process, including for reintegration of ex-combatants, reconstruction and humanitarian appeals."

The council encouraged the new government to reform the Forestry Development Authority and implement recommendations for reform and cancellation of existing logging concessions.

This will "ensure transparency, accountability, and sustainable forest management and contribute towards the lifting of the measures on timber," it said.

The council welcomed the assistance provided by the 15 000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Liberia in re-establishing the government's authority throughout the country, and encouraged the force to continue joint patrols with the Forestry Development Authority.

The council also encouraged the new government to consider commissioning independent outside advice on managing the country's diamond resources, in order to increase revenue and investor confidence and to attract additional donor support.

It expressed concern that Liberia's current transitional government took no action to freeze the assets of Taylor, his family and supporters as required by a council resolution adopted last year, and called on the incoming government to take action immediately to adopt the necessary domestic legislation.

The council asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan to re-establish a panel of experts for six months to assess the effectiveness of sanctions and any violations. - Sapa-AP