Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone Accord to Be Signed this Weekend


By Allieu Ibrahim Kamara

Washington Post / Reuters
June 30, 1999

Freetown — Sierra Leone rebels have accepted a government offer of power-sharing, and a peace accord ending nearly nine years of civil war in the West African country will be signed Saturday, officials said Wednesday.

Sierra Leone and UN officials told Reuters that President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah would fly Saturday to Lome, Togo, venue of the month-long peace talks, to sign the deal with the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF). RUF leader Foday Sankoh has been in the Togolese capital since shortly before the negotiations began May 25. He sent envoys to the Sierra Leone bush this week to seek the approval of his guerrilla commanders to Kabbah's offer of Cabinet posts. "The last obstacles to the power-sharing arrangement between the government and the rebels have now been cleared," a senior United Nations official told Reuters. "The RUF leader and other senior RUF officials have accepted four ministerial posts in the new Sierra Leone government and three deputy minister posts," the official said. "The peace accord will be signed by the government and RUF this coming Saturday in Lome, Togo."

The official said diplomats who met rebel field commanders on Sierra Leone's eastern border with Liberia had informed Sankoh that his guerrilla chiefs had accepted the package. There was no immediate comment from the rebel camp in Togo.

A senior Kabbah aide said the president was overjoyed when told Tuesday night that his offer finally had been accepted by rebels who ousted him for nine months in May 1997. "He raised his hands in supplication to God and knelt down in Muslim prayer," the aide said.

He said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and a number of other regional heads of state were expected to witness Saturday's signing ceremony. The United States and Sierra Leone's former colonial ruler, Britain, would also be represented. Both have been closely involved in the peace process and had observers at the talks.

Kabbah's government, despite serious misgivings among some ministers and aides, offered the rebels four Cabinet posts and four lower-tier positions after the rebels rejected an earlier offer of three Cabinet posts.

The accord is also expected to redefine the role of the largely Nigerian West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, which has kept the elected Kabbah in power since reinstating him in March 1998.

RUF has fought successive governments in Sierra Leone since 1991 in a war marked by widespread atrocities against civilians. The atrocities were blaimed largely on the rebels. RUF formed an alliance with renegade soldiers who toppled Kabbah in 1997 and set up a short-lived junta that was not recognized internationally. Fighting has ravaged the country's mining economy, with foreign operators of basuxite and diamonds mines forced to flee.

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