Global Policy Forum

UN Puzzled by Rebel Stance

December 15, 2000

U.N. officials said Friday they were puzzled by a statement from Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) saying it would not allow peacekeepers to deploy unless its leader Foday Sankoh was freed.

Lieutenant Commander Patrick Coker of the U.N. mission in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL, told reporters that it had not received an official letter from the RUF demanding Sankoh's release or barring the deployment of peacekeepers in rebel-held areas. "I can assure you that UNAMSIL military observers have moved into RUF areas in the Kailahun district in the east," he said, but he declined to specify whether U.N. personnel were still circulating in the rebel-held north.

A statement released on the RUF Web site and sent to Reuters said UNAMSIL observers would be barred from entering RUF-controlled areas with immediate effect until a number of conditions had been met. The statement, which was dated December 13, said those conditions, which include Sankoh's release and his "safe escort to a location to be mutually agreed upon in advance," were non-negotiable.

U.N. officials in New York said the statement contradicted what RUF interim leader General Issa Sesay had told UNAMSIL's commander, Daniel Opande, during a meeting on the same day. They said that Opande had subsequently tried to contact Sesay for explanations without success and that he had talked to other RUF commanders who said the statement did not reflect their position. However, an African diplomat in Freetown told Reuters that, although no official letter had been sent, "UNAMSIL has received the warning." Movement of U.N. military observers in rebel-held areas had been halted, he said.

The RUF and Sierra Leone's government signed a ceasefire agreement in November and pledged to allow U.N. troops unhindered access throughout the country, ravaged by civil war since 1991.

A 1999 peace deal collapsed last May when RUF fighters took hostage hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers. Fighting flared again. Sankoh, who had the status of vice-president in a unity government at the time, was arrested after his guards killed demonstrators outside his house. He is now in prison awaiting trial for human rights offences.

In his statement, Sesay said the RUF was committed to the 1999 Lome accord but added the RUF must regain the posts in government agreed under that deal and this should happen no later than January 25, 2001. Sesay also demanded the release of other RUF members and said they and Sankoh should have "appropriate blood samples drawn under proper supervision for the purpose of establishing that they have not been injected with life-threatening chemicals during or just prior to their release from prison."

The government has not reacted to the statement.

More Information on Sierra Leone


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