Global Policy Forum

UN Secretary General Notes

By UN Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)
Africa News Online
May 24, 2000

The United Nations will have to learn from the many difficulties its mission in Sierra Leone has faced in recent weeks, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his latest report to the Security Council.

"Looking back on recent events, it is obvious that the United Nations will have to draw lessons from its experiences in Sierra Leone," he said in the report, issued on Monday. "The force, which had been designed, equipped and deployed as a peacekeeping force, was quickly forced into actual combat with one of the parties that had pledged to cooperate with it."

Since the start of May, the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), mandated to maintain peace but also to use force if necessary, has seen 500 of its personnel detained by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), although some 200 had been released by Monday. UNAMSIL has also been the victim of "deliberate and unprovoked attacks" by RUF rebels.

In his report, Annan said these were "unacceptable acts which have been unequivocally condemned by the international community".

Following the RUF hostilities and the threat of a rebel attack on Freetown, pro-government forces including the ex- Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), the former and present Sierra Leone Army, and militia forces rearmed and joined together to repel advancing rebel forces.

As a result, the cornerstone of the peace agreement between the RUF and the government - the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process - has come to "a virtual standstill", Annan reported. "Obviously this aspect of the peace process requires a re-evaluation of its assumptions, organization and implementation mechanisms, which is to be undertaken in full coordination with national and international stakeholders," he said.

Addressing challenges such as cohesion and information flows

Aside from a reassessment of the DDR programme in consultation with the government and international partners, the UN will have to tackle the "many problems" which have emerged within UNAMSIL as a result of the recent developments, Annan said.

He said there were difficulties with the "cohesiveness of the force, the flow of information, equipment and preparedness of troops, and coordination between and within the various components in UNAMSIL".

He added that "the Secretariat is taking urgent steps to assess these problems and to address recognized equipment shortfalls, in close coordination with the troop contributing countries."

Annan said this was not a reflection on the leadership of the mission, nor was it a criticism of the peacekeeping troops or their commander. "My Special Representative has handled a very difficult situation effectively," he said. "I also wish to acknowledge the Force Commander's quick reaction, personal courage and military professionalism .... Nor does this imply criticism of the troops on the ground, many of whom displayed considerable courage and professionalism in defending themselves and their mandate."

Unity of command

He said that to ensure "proper control and unity of command" all international forces should be incorporated with UNAMSIL except those sent for a short time for strictly national purposes - a direct reference to the British troops temporarily in Sierra Leone. They initially went in to evacuate British and other nationals but have since taken a more direct role in ensuring security in Freetown and its environs.

The UN Secretary-General went on to say that it was important that UN forces "coordinate closely with the Sierra Leonean Army and other elements allied with the government, in particular the Civil Defence Forces and AFRC/ex-SLA, to avoid any misunderstandings which could lead to incidents".

To achieve this, it is envisaged that UNAMSIL will place a military liaison officer with the military command of the groups and units involved and will ensure close coordination with the British force while it remains in Sierra Leone, he said.

Situation has changed radically in 18 months

The situation in Sierra Leone has changed beyond recognition in less than 18 months. In January 1999 Nigerian troops serving with the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, repelled a coalition of RUF, AFRC/ex-SLA forces which attacked Freetown, mutilating civilians and detroying houses before fleeing to the bush. The Lome Peace Accord, which the RUF and the governnment signed in July 1999, was the first sign of a hoped-for lasting peace.

However, there were constant reports by the UN and rights organisations that the RUF was violating the fragile peace in a number of ways - including by abducting civilians, commiting and preventing UNAMSIL and NGOs from going to parts of the country, in particular the diamond areas.

The agreement was finally shattered by the recent abduction of UN peacekeepers. Now former foes have joined ranks alongside the UN to fight the RUF although, according to Annan's report, "a lasting resolution of the crisis can only be found through political means; it cannot be imposed by military force alone".

Sankoh manoeuvered himself out of the peace process

The government of Sierra Leone alleged recently that Sankoh, who is now in the custody of the Sierra Leonean authorities after fleeing his house in Freetown, was planning a coup, had made unauthorised diamond deals and was involved in the recruitment of child soldiers after signing the peace deal.

Asked, as he entered UN headquarters on Monday, whether Sankoh should play any role in the government or be charged as a war criminal Annan replied: "I believe by his behaviour, he has excluded himself from the process. And I don't see how one can consider him part of any peace process in Sierra Leone."

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