Annan Wants a 'Robust Force' for Sierra Leone

Washington Post
September 28, 1999

New York - Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday recommended the establishment of a 6,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force to help implement a July accord aimed at ending an eight-year civil war in Sierra Leone. Mr. Annan said the "robust force" called for under the July 7 peace agreement should include six infantry battalions, each about 750-strong, and should incorporate the U.N. Observer Mission already in Sierra Leone. Mr. Annan's report follows the deployment earlier this month of a U.N. peacekeeping force to East Timor where militia, backed by Indonesian troops, rampaged in the wake of an overwhelming vote for independence Aug. 30. Indonesia had occupied the former Portuguese colony since 1975.

In addition to the East Timor force, there are 16 U.N. peacekeeping or observer missions worldwide, including troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Haiti, Cyprus, Lebanon and the former Soviet republic of Georgia. In his recommendation yesterday, Mr. Annan said the new mission, to be called the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (Unamil), would take over the U.N. Observer Mission, Unomsil, only about half of whose authorized 210 observers currently are deployed.

Mr. Annan said he hoped Unamil also would be able to incorporate a substantial number of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS' 12,000-member Nigerian-led Economic Community of West African States Military Observer Group (ECOMOG) is being phased out after serving in Sierra Leone for 2 and-a-half-years. A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations said they could not comment on Mr. Annan's recommendation until they had time to study the proposal. "We're just going to have to look at this," the U.S. official said. "It's the first time we've seen numbers this big" for Sierra Leone.

The July 7 accord ending Sierra Leone's civil war was signed in Lome, Togo, by Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Foday Sankoh, head of the rebel Revolutionary United Front. It followed a conflict that devastated the former British colony and was marked by extreme savagery. Rebels were widely accused of massacring civilians, cutting off limbs and gang-raping children. The agreement included a highly controversial amnesty for the rebels that obliged the U.N. special representative who also signed to disassociate the United Nations from that provision.

Mr. Annan said in his report that, without security, it would not be possible to carry out a program of disarming and demobilizing approximately 45,000 former combatants, many of them children, and thus remove a threat to the country's stability. Mr. Annan said that in addition to the infantry battalions, the force he envisioned entering Sierra Leone would include specialized support units. The support units would include logistics, communications, engineering and air and other transportation, that would each comprise about 250 troops. A helicopter-borne rapid-reaction unit would number about 200, bringing the total of military personnel to about 6,000, Mr. Annan said. "It would be my intention to seek contributions of troops for a significant part of the force from ECOWAS countries, in particular those currently contributing to ECOMOG," the secretary-general said. "Such troops could be deployed fairly rapidly to Sierra Leone if they are not already stationed there as part of ECOMOG."

The withdrawal of Nigerian troops, who make up the bulk of ECOMOG, began on Aug. 31 but was suspended following a meeting between Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Mr. Kabbah, Mr. Annan said. But Nigeria had indicated the withdrawals would resume in October. The secretary-general also called for the immediate return to Sierra Leone of Mr. Sankoh, to "assume important functions within the government of Sierra Leone." Mr. Annan said the commitment of Mr. Sankoh and his senior associates, including Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, to the Lome agreement was an essential element in its effective implementation. He said much more money would be needed than the $19 million already contributed by the international community -- including $10 million by Britain -- to a trust fund established by the World Bank to support the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants.

While U.N. troops were called for in the Lome accord, Mr. Annan's recommendations on the size of the Sierra Leone force comes one week after he told the U.N. General Assembly that national borders should no longer be a deterrent to justified humanitarian intervention. "If states bent on criminal behavior know that frontiers are not an absolute defense, if they know that the Security Council will take action to halt crimes against humanity, then they will not embark on such a course of action in expectations of sovereign impunity," he said. "Massive and systematic violations of human rights -- wherever they may take place -- should not be allowed to stand."

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