"I ... congratulate the people of Liberia who, through a peaceful and transparent electoral process, have given (Ellen) Johnson Sirleaf an historic mandate to lead the nation towards a future of lasting peace and stability," Annan said Monday.
The inauguration was held in Monrovia with many dignitaries attending, including U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. first lady Laura Bush.
Establishment of a democratically elected government in Liberia culminates the peace process envisaged in the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement of August 2003, Annan said. During the period, the peacekeeping U.N. Mission in Liberia supported national efforts to achieve the transition to democracy by providing a secure environment, disarming more than 100,000 ex-combatants, facilitating the return of tens of thousands of displaced persons and refugees, and helping organize the recent free and fair elections.
The secretary-general acknowledged Johnson Sirleaf's administration faces many pressing challenges in a country still reeling from the effects of war, including restructuring the security sector, strengthening economic governance, stimulating economic growth, strengthening the rule of law, protecting human rights, consolidating State authority and reestablishing basic services.
"In the face of these challenges, the people of Liberia are being given a unique opportunity to join together, to build a just and inclusive society, which assures the participation of all people, irrespective of political or ethnic affiliation," he observed.
Annan called on the international community to assist the new government and pledged the United Nation's continued support "as Liberia lays the foundation for a better future built on peace, stability, democracy and rule of law."