Global Policy Forum

UN Troops in Sierra Leone Accused


By Rod MacJohnson

Agence France Presse
January 30, 2001

UN peacekeepers are increasingly being accused of being "on holiday" in Sierra Leone, where officials Tuesday acknowledged the troops are some way off from deploying in rebel-held areas.

Callers to phone-in programmes on pro-democracy radio FM 98 have in recent weeks expressed frustration at the lack of deployment, saying the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) should be "sent packing."

"Apart from failing to deploy, what is annoying many of us is the attitude of some UNAMSIL personnel,"one caller said . "Many of them are are on the beaches in the capital on Sunday, they drive in air-conditioned cars, they drive arrogantly, and overtake vehicles on the road at breakneck speed," she added.

Said another caller: "They seem to be on holiday." "The average Sierra Leonean is trying to make ends meet, yet these people are riding high," said yet another caller.

UNAMSIL officials rejected the charges, saying the peacekeepers had in fact been deployed in parts of the country not under the control of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which is based mainly in the north.

The officials said the peacekeepers were manning checkpoints and doing patrols in the south and parts of the east. Some were involved in community work, including the building of makeshift schools.

Under a new ceasefire the Sierra Leone government signed with the RUF on November 11 in Nigeria, UNAMSIL is to deploy troops in all rebel-held zones, in particular those where diamonds are mined.

The United Nations says that profits from the diamond trade support the RUF, with the complicity of the government of Liberia.

UNAMSIL military spokesman Major Mohamed Yarimeh said Tuesday, however, that the peacekeepers "still don't know when they will deploy." "We are hampered by a shortage of troops after the Indian and Jordanian units pulled out," Yarimeh told AFP.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for the force -- already the UN's largest -- to be boosted from 12,455 members to 20,500, a number which, according to Annan, would enable it to be deployed throughout Sierra Leone.

Yarimeh was doubtful they would reach that figure, but added that a promise of some 2,500 men from Pakistan and 200 from Rwanda would help.

Diplomatic sources said the criticism of UNAMSIL was unfair but understandable from people who have been longing to get back to their homes in the north of the country but still fear the RUF rebels because of the extreme brutality they have shown since they staged an insurrection in 1991.

"Some quiet diplomacy is going on that is yielding dividends," one diplomat said. Other UNAMSIL officials said various meetings between peacekeepers and RUF leaders in the past two months had resulted in the establishment of regional contact groups at Daru and Kenema in the east, and at Mange and Mile 91 in the north. Some groups meet every week, others every fortnight, according to former UN spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu Tuesday.

The rebels have said they have opened all roads, but few are willing to test their assurances.

Some callers said UNAMSIL should "undertake limited deployment" in rebel areas, while others said that the Sierra Leonean troops trained by 400 British soldiers in the past few months should be called in to assist UNAMSIL.

Some 6,000 soldiers have already been deployed under the programme, while another 4,500 are in training. "With 6,000 soldiers already trained, UNAMSIL can take them on board," said Samuel Coker of the Committee for Civil Rights.

More Information on Sierra Leone
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