Global Policy Forum

Annan Assesses Sierra Leone's UN Force

Associated Press
December 4, 2000

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan arrived on Saturday in war-ravaged Sierra Leone, where he renewed the world body's commitment to a U.N. peacekeeping force plagued by organizational troubles and rebel attacks on civilians.

Annan, who flew in for a two-day visit, said the United Nations is determined to help Sierra Leone end nearly a decade of civil war. "I can assure you the U.N. will do everything we can ... to establish peace and calm," Annan said after arriving at Freetown's Lungi airport. "If the people, the government and the international community work together, we can bring peace to Sierra Leone."

His pledge made no mention of the Revolutionary United Front rebels, who have abandoned three peace accords since the war began in 1991. Human rights workers say the renegades have stalled implementing terms of the latest 30-day cease-fire signed last month.

Instead, Annan warned that the United Nations would not permit the peace process to be stalled and described his visit as an "indication of the importance the international community has attached to UNAMSIL," the 13,000-strong U.N. force in Sierra Leone. "The people of this country have suffered for too long. For anyone to take steps or do anything to delay the peace that they need will not be tolerated," he said.

Since it arrived a year ago, organizational troubles have hampered the U.N. peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, the world's largest. The rebels kidnapped some 500 peacekeepers in May when they advanced on the capital. Since then, India and Jordan have withdrawn their troops and top leadership has changed.

Britain, which has 600 officers helping train Sierra Leone's shattered army to fight the rebels, has senior staff giving intelligence and strategic advice to the revamped U.N. force. The cease-fire, signed on Nov. 10 in Abuja, Nigeria, commits the RUF to allowing free movement to civilians and U.N. troops in rebel-held territory. Yet the rebels continue to deny peacekeepers and relief workers access to large swathes of the jungle interior, including the lucrative diamond mines that fuel the rebel war effort, human rights groups say.

Since the RUF launched Sierra Leone's civil war in 1991, the renegades have systematically murdered and maimed tens of thousands of defenseless civilians in a terror campaign to increase their influence. The RUF's signature atrocity is cutting off the hands, legs and lips of women, children and the elderly.

In recent months, the rebels have also started raping, robbing and killing civilians in neighboring countries, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a recent communique. "The U.N. should enforce its international arms embargo against the RUF, which is now making incursions and committing abuses against civilians in neighboring Guinea," the statement said.

The United Nations, which sent a delegation to meet with the rebels on Friday in the town of Mile 91 northeast of the capital, is expected to assess next week whether the cease-fire is workable. "I hope to have a good sense of what is going on here and be able to talk to people to see what together we can do to accelerate the efforts they are making," Annan said. He was meeting Saturday with Sierra Leone President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and was expected to hold discussions with peacekeepers and civilians, including victims of rebel atrocities.

Sierra Leone's foreign minister, Sama Banya, praised Annan's visit as "giving more impetus to the peace process."

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