Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone: UN Will Respond to Attacks


By Rodolfo A. Windhausen

United Press International
August 4, 2000

The Security Council warned Friday that UN troops will respond "robustly" to any hostile actions or threat of force in Sierra Leone, and approved Secretary General Kofi Annan's request to further strengthen the organization's military contingent in that country. In a resolution passed unanimously, the Council condemned "in the strongest terms" the attacks against the UN mission in Sierra Leone, known as UNASMIL.

It also extended its mandate until September 8th, while setting as a priority "to maintain the security of the Lungi and Freetown peninsulas and their major approach routes." These areas include the capital of the country and its main airport.

UNASMIL has some 13,000 troops in the area, which have been under attack from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and other guerrillas since May. Annan is expected to recommend raising the force to 16,500, but he may face obstacles to get well-equipped soldiers from UN member countries.

The resolution says the existing contingent has been ordered "to deter and, where necessary, decisively counter the threat of RUF attack by responding robustly to any hostile actions or threat of imminent and direct use of force." It also indicates that UNASMIL will progressively deploy its troops "at key strategic locations and main population centers," in an attempt to restore law and order and support the government.

Since May, the RUF and other armed groups have repeatedly violated the terms of the Lome accord signed in July, 1999, which was designed to put an end to a brutal eight-year civil war in Sierra Leone, a diamond-rich West African country and former British colony.

The Security Council resolution, submitted by Great Britain, also instructs UNASMIL to patrol actively "on strategic lines of communications, specifically main access routes to the capital in order to dominate ground, ensure freedom of movement and facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance."

The Council stated that UNASMIL "should be reinforced through accelerated troop rotations, as appropriate" and suggests the strengthening of "further aviation and maritime assets" to stabilize the situation in the country. Earlier this month, the Council imposed a ban on the sale of diamonds from Sierra Leone, in an effort to cut off the most lucrative source of funds for the rebels, which control many diamond mines in the region.

During a recent attack, nine UN peacekeepers from Nigeria, India and Jordan were killed by the guerrillas, who also managed to temporarily isolate part of the world organization troops. Later this month, the Council is expected to vote on a US-sponsored resolution to set up a special international tribunal to try rebels accused of committing atrocities, among them RUF leader Fodau Sankoh, who was arrested by UN troops in May.

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