Global Policy Forum

UN Commander Explains Hostage Taking


By Peter Kahler

Panafrican News Agency
May 29, 2000

The United Nations force commander in Sierra Leone, Maj. Gen. Vijay Jetley, said Monday that his men were taken hostage by rebels of the revolutionary United Front (RUF) because they were trying to negotiate the peace.

"Suddenly we were forced into a situation not of peacekeeping, but of war," he told a press briefing in Freetown. He said the "the reason why our (UN) men were taken hostage is because we were using the weapon we know best - negotiation." "We did not want to use force. We did not come here for war. It is more difficult to keep the peace than to make war," the Indian general added.

Jetley said "they RUF suffered a number of casualties. Maybe you will get to know one day." "From my understanding, they are in a state of total demoralisation right now. In fact, they are still licking the wounds", Jetley said, pointing out that "in most of the areas, the rebels have been apologetic that they had to do what they have been asked to do." He warned "if the need arises that force be used, it will be used in a similar manner."

Jetley, however, refused to comment on peace enforcement because the matter was being discussed by leaders of the sub-region in Abuja, adding that the UN was awaiting the outcome of the meeting.

He said that the UN still had men deployed in other parts of the country, in some cases in "a stand off with RUF", but "we are trying to negotiate...that's the tool of our trade."

Jetley said all the hostages have returned to base, except four men who were supposed to be with the rebels but are "believed to be missing or killed in action."

He said another matter of concern now was the return of the peacekeepers without their weapons, vehicles and other supplies, and hoped that Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was instrumental in the release of the hostages, would be "helpful in this part of the negotiations."

Jetley declined to comment on the issue of Foday Sankoh, the RUF leader, because he was under the jurisdiction of the Sierra Leonine government, and that any decision regarding him will be taken by the government in conjunction with the international community.

He said he did not know who in the RUF ordered the release of the 500 UN soldiers, but commended Taylor for being "instrumental in the process." He admitted that many of the hostages were malnourished because they fed mainly on fruits during captivity, while others returned with wounds.

Jetley said even before the confrontation, hundreds of RUF fighters were willing to disarm and are in fact disarming at the disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration centres.

He said his hope at the moment is that the stand-off between UN and RUF in some parts of the country will come to and end soon, and "our mission still remains peacekeeping."

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