Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone Reaches Peace Deal

Associated Press / New York Times
July 7, 1999

Lome, Togo - Sierra Leone's warring sides reached a peace deal on Wednesday to end eight years of civil war, after the feared rebel movement backed down on key demands, rebel and UN officials said.

Some have resisted the idea of compromising with the insurgents, who stand accused of egregious human rights abuses in their effort to overthrow Sierra Leone's President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and his democratically elected government.

The accord was to be signed later on Wednesday by President Kabbah and Revolutionary United Front leader Foday Sankoh, a UN mediator said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The signing was planned for a summit of regional leaders in Togo's capital, Lome. A rebel official, who declined to be named, confirmed the deal. He said the insurgents -- who have been seriously divided in the past -- were united behind Sankoh, who approved the deal. "Nobody rejects the leader's commands,'' the rebel official said. "We must have peace for the country and we are going to give the nation peace."

Yet questions remained as to whether the agreement to formally end one of the world's bloodiest conflicts would be accepted by Sierra Leonean fighters and civilians. The war has devastated the West African nation and forced up to half of its four million people to flee their homes. Civilians and international human rights groups accuse the rebels of systematically killing, mutilating and raping thousands of people in a bid to gain power through terror. The death toll is unclear.

The peace deal called for the rebels to be given a power-sharing role with Kabbah's elected government, including four rebel Cabinet ministers' posts and four deputies, the UN official said.

At the last minute, the insurgents had demanded six to eight ministers' posts, the official said, but international mediators and the rebels' own allies, including Liberia's President Charles Taylor, pressured them to back down. The accord also provided for a "reprieve'' from prosecution for rebels who committed war crimes, the official added, although the conditions on the pardons remained unclear.

Another key rebel demand, that West African troops defending Sierra Leone's government be excluded from a new peacekeeping force, was dropped. The Nigerian-led intervention force known as ECOMOG would remain in Sierra Leone. Mediator Joseph Koffigoh, Togo's foreign minister, said Taylor -- whose government has been accused of providing weapons and troops to the rebels -- had pushed the insurgents to allow the ECOMOG forces to remain. "Sierra Leoneans are tired of the war and the whole sub-region is fed up with the fighting,'' Koffigoh said.

ECOMOG forces helped end Liberia's civil war in 1996 after Taylor's guerrilla forces fought the peacekeepers at one point. Taylor won elections the following year after making peace with ECOMOG.

The Nigerian-led troops are the strongest military force backing Sierra Leone's government. Besides Liberia, Burkina Faso has been accused of supplying troops and weapons to the rebels.

The warring sides have come close to agreement on several occasions during six weeks of negotiations in Lome. But each time the deal was stalled by new demands from the negotiators.

Along with Kabbah, Sankoh and Taylor, the presidents of Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Togo also attended the summit.

More Information on Sierra Leone


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