Global Policy Forum

Peacekeeping Efforts Require

United States Committee on Refugees
May 25, 2000

New peacekeeping troops headed to Sierra Leone should arrive with proper training and equipment and should operate under direct UN command rather than as a separate fighting force, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) urged today at the conclusion of its three-day site visit to Sierra Leone.

The UN has already stationed 9,500 peacekeeping troops in Sierra Leone and plans to deploy at least 3,000 more to achieve the 13,000- troop level authorized last week by the UN Security Council. The UN is still considering granting authorization for deployment of up to 16,000 peacekeepers, and West African leaders are scheduled to meet this weekend to consider sending additional soldiers, primarily Nigerians, into Sierra Leone under the UN flag or as an independent force known as ECOMOG. An estimated 1,000 British troops are in Sierra Leone as well.

"The quality of additional peacekeeping troops is just as important as their number," says USCR Policy Analyst Eleanor Bedford, currently in the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, to assess conditions there and gauge local attitudes. "If the UN or neighboring West African countries throw poorly prepared or undisciplined troops into Sierra Leone at this stage, they could become a liability."

Sierra Leone's latest military crisis began earlier this month when rebels surrounded poorly trained and badly equipped UN peacekeepers and forced them to surrender their weapons and vehicles. The crisis has prompted population movements, including displacement of previously uprooted people. Aid agencies estimate that security problems this month have uprooted at least 15,000 people, in addition to the nearly 1 million Sierra Leoneans who fled their homes in previous years.

Sending West African ECOMOG troops back into Sierra Leone under their own separate command would be a mistake, USCR's site visit concluded. Re-deployment of an ECOMOG force would threaten to fracture the fragile local military alliance that has rushed to defend the government against rebel attacks in recent weeks. Some combatants who have taken up arms in support of the government this month- including ex-members of the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) and the local Civil Defense Force (CDF)-fought against Nigerian ECOMOG troops earlier in the war. Local sources allege that some Nigerian ECOMOG troops, during their earlier deployment, maintained business links to rebel-controlled diamond regions.

"Re-introduction of ECOMOG at this time would serve to create more tensions than it would diffuse, particularly given the volatile military alliance between CDF and ex-SLA," a Sierra Leonean church leader told USCR. Many others in Freetown interviewed by USCR echoed his view.

If West African leaders decide this weekend to offer more troops to help alleviate the situation in Sierra Leone, the additional troops should operate under UN command and should have appropriate military training. The UN, with support of the United States and other major donors, should ensure that all new UN troops in Sierra Leone possess proper military equipment, including radios, necessary for self- protection and a strong military response against rebels. Clashes between the rebels and pro-government forces are continuing and could intensify before the situation is resolved.

"Although the morale of most Sierra Leoneans in Freetown has been buoyed by the British military presence, the current situation remains extremely volatile," USCR's Bedford says. "For people here in Freetown, it is extremely difficult to predict the outcome of the crisis, both in Freetown and in the rest of the country."

[This is the fifth update issued by USCR since May 5 on the crisis in Sierra Leone.] From U.S. Committee for Refugees May 25, 2000 Contact: Jeff Drumtra 202-347-3507

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