Global Policy Forum

Annan Meets With West Africans


By Christopher Wren

New York Times
September 12, 2000

As the Security Council prepared to expand the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone, Secretary General Kofi Annan met today with a group of nine West African countries to coordinate efforts to resolve the crisis created by a brutal insurgency.

Mr. Annan used the meeting to seek their help in defusing tensions between two of their members, Guinea and Liberia. Also in the Economic Community of West African States, known by its acronym Ecowas, are Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The group previously fielded its own intervention force to help the Sierra Leone government fight the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front. Member countries have since contributed troops to the United Nations peacekeeping mission and want a voice in the future of Sierra Leone.

At the meeting today, Mr. Annan expressed concern at the latest border clashes reported between Guinea and Liberia, two neighbors of Sierra Leone affected by the streams of refugees fleeing the fighting. In a statement released later, Mr. Annan said he was "distressed at the loss of life and injuries sustained by innocent villagers" on Guinea's border with Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Guinean government said about 80 people have been killed in clashes and that others are missing.

Guinea has rounded up more than 1,000 refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone and blamed them for contributing to the rising instability, according to news reports. In retaliation, Liberia's president, Charles Taylor, deployed troops at Guinea's Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, purportedly to protect Guineans.

"The humanitarian implications of the continued instability in the sub-region cannot be underestimated," Mr. Annan told the West African group today. More than 300,000 people have been internally displaced in Sierra Leone since renewed fighting broke out last May, he said. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had registered nearly 15,000 refugees from Sierra Leone in Guinea since then. Another 37,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia cannot return home because of precarious security, Mr. Annan said.

At Mr. Annan's request, the Security Council this week is discussing a new resolution that would expand the size of United Nations' peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone to 20,500 troops, from the current 13,000. The force is already the largest of the peacekeeping missions deployed by the United Nations. Mr. Annan said today that he expected the resolution to be adopted by Sept. 20.

The Secretary General alluded to the leadership problems plaguing the United Nations mission in Sierra Leone. Nigeria, a major troop contributor, has reportedly demanded the dismissal of the mission's military commander, Maj. Gen. Vijay Jetley of India. He has accused his deputy, Gen. Mohammed Garba, and the Secretary General's special representative, Oluyemi Adeniji, who are both Nigerians, of undercutting him.

The Washington Post and the Guardian reported on Sunday that General Jetley said in a secret memo that senior Nigerian officials were colluding with rebels in Sierra Leone to profit from smuggling illegal diamonds.

More Information on Sierra Leone


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