Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone Peace Mission to Double in Size


By Jim Wurst

InterPress Service
February 7, 2000

United Nations - The peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone will be doubled in size and given an aggressive mandate in order to take over from the West African peacekeeping force, which is leaving the country.

"The security situation in the country remains difficult, with a continued high level of ambushes, lawlessness and banditry," Hedi Annabi, the assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping, told the Security Council. He reported that humanitarian assistance to two-thirds of the country is limited by rebel activities, some rebel leaders are not allowing peacekeepers into areas under their control, most rebels are not reporting to disarmament camps and those who do turn up without weapons.

The Security Council has authorized a force of 11,100 troops, up from the current 6,000. But more importantly, the Council has given the mission an enlarged mandate to help enforce an extremely fragile cease-fire. The Council resolution, which was adopted unanimously, authorizes the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to provide security at key sites including the capital of Freetown and major airports; "to facilitate the free flow of people, goods and humanitarian assistance;" to provide security at disarmament camps and to guard the weapons turned in at those sites; and to assist Sierra Leonian law enforcement officers.

Sierra Leone's representative, Ibrahim M'Baba Kamara told the Council the new mission "should allay some of our fears about the security of the state. The same applies to the Council decision to give - if not all - at least many of the functions being performed by ECOMOG." The UN force will replace ECOMOG - the Nigerian-led West African peacekeeping operation - which restored the elected government of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in February 1998 and fought off (but not defeated) the rebel forces still operating in some parts of the country.

The primary anti-government forces are the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council which, under Johnny Paul Koroma, overthrew the Kabbah government in 1997. The RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, has been brought into the government, but his connections to the RUF field commanders is still ambiguous.

In December, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria said he would begin a phased withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the ECOMOG force in Sierra Leone. This withdrawal is to be completed by the end of February. Two other ECOMOG contributors, Ghana and Guinea, are also withdrawing their troops. This prompted Secretary-General Kofi Annan to recommend an increased UN force to take over ECOMOG responsibilities. About 2,000 of the Nigerians will be integrated into UNAMSIL. There are 4,830 UNAMSIL in the country. However, Annabi said, many of the troops lack "essential equipment" and that there were incidents when peacekeepers were "confronted by rebel elements, but did not respond in a satisfactory manner, thereby undermining the credibility of UNAMSIL." This is an apparent reference to reports of rebels taking the weapons of peacekeepers. UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said there have been three "confrontations" with the RUF, in which the rebels robbed two UN contingents and one ECOMOG unit of Guinean troops. At least 500 assault rifles were taken in this last incident. Eckhard noted that UNAMSIL will be authorized to defend itself against such attacks. "We do not expect to see these kinds of incidents again," he said.

Disarmament is supposed to work the other way around. According to the July 1999 peace accords, the 45,000 combatants are supposed to report to disarmament and reintegration camps where they turn in their weapons in exchange for assistance in resuming civilian life. Annabi says only 7,616 ex-combatants have reported and many of them come unarmed or carrying only a hand grenade.

As important as peace is to Sierra Leone, the mission has a special importance to the UN. When - if - the force is deployed in full, it will be by far the largest peacekeeping mission underway. The size reflects its assertive mandate, in which the UN takes an active role in calming a country, rather than watching others do it. Such ambitious goals has been rare in recent years. This contrasts with the planned mission for the Democratic Republic of Congo. At 11,100 troops, UNAMSIL will double the deployment for the Congo, reflecting the UN's limited goals of monitoring a multi-faceted peace agreement. The comparison in size is exactly the opposite: Congo is as large as the United States east of the Mississippi; Sierra Leone is slightly smaller than South Carolina. A failure in the smaller nation would not reflect well on the UN's abilities in the larger one.

More Information on Sierra Leone


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