Global Policy Forum

UN Praises Sierra Leone Rescue

Associated Press
July 18, 2000

After the humiliating capture of 500 peacekeepers 2 1/2 months ago, the Security Council finally had a U.N. military operation to praise lavishly -- the rescue of 233 U.N. soldiers trapped by rebel forces.

In a statement adopted unanimously Monday, the 15-member council called the Indian-led U.N. rescue operation ``an example of the very best in United Nations multilateral peacekeeping.'' And Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the ``remarkable discipline and determination'' displayed by the U.N. rescue force brought credit to the United Nations. But council members and Annan stressed that there is still much to be done to bring peace to Sierra Leone.

With all peacekeepers now free, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said the force should turn its attention to helping the Sierra Leone government extend its authority in the country ``without this millstone around their neck caused by the rebels.''

The Security Council initially sent 6,000 peacekeepers to Sierra Leone to help implement a July 1999 cease-fire signed by the government and rebels who terrorized the country for eight years, killing tens of thousands of civilians and mutilating thousands more. In February, the council increased the force to 11,100. But the peace accord was shaky. And when rebels from Foday Sankoh's Revolutionary United Front reignited the civil war in May, they embarrassed the United Nations by capturing 500 peacekeepers, who turned out to be poorly trained and equipped.

Those hostages were disarmed, then released after several weeks. But 222 Indian peacekeepers and 11 military observers of various nationalities remained besieged in a U.N. base inside the eastern rebel stronghold of Kailahun in eastern Sierra Leone -- and exhaustive diplomatic and political efforts to free them failed. The RUF's recent decision to impede the delivery of supplies to the besieged troops was the final straw.

A U.N. rescue operation was launched early Saturday when a team of Ghanaian, Indian and Nigerian troops supported by British and Indian helicopter gunships helped 233 peacekeepers and observers break out of Kailahun amid RUF fire. An Indian soldier who was injured when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his truck, later died. Six other U.N. peacekeepers were injured, Eckhard said.

``I think it shows what the U.N. can do when it has good capable troops and good leadership,'' U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham said.

Since June 1999, the United Nations has embarked on major peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and East Timor as well as Sierra Leone. The Security Council is currently considering beefing up the Sierra Leone force to 13,000 and deploying military observers, and possibly peacekeepers, to Congo.

Britain's Greenstock said the United Nations is moving into ``new peacekeeping territory'' in Sierra Leone, and U.N. troops are learning how to operate with more robust mandates to gain access to rebel territory and to protect themselves. ``It hasn't been easy,'' he said. ``This (rescue) has shown the U.N. is learning how to change, and is getting the right support for what it wants to do. But it has to build on that. ... There's a massive amount still to do in Sierra Leone and we must go on supporting them.''

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