Global Policy Forum

UN Deploys in RUF-Held Territory

March 15, 2001

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) today began its first deployment into RUF rebel-held territory, in a move, which is seen as a major step forward for the peace process. The UN was sending an advance party of peacekeepers to a town north of Freetown in preparation for the full deployment of Nigerian troops next week.

The soldiers were sent to Lunsar, approximately 90 kilometres from the capital Freetown in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone. The town is under the control of the rebels/terrorists of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). "We are moving," UNAMSIL force commander Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande yesterday told reporters. "People in Lunsar were very happy to see us. The deployment of UN peacekeepers into RUF-held territory is among the terms of the Abuja Ceasefire Agreement, signed by the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF last November. UNAMSIL troops, the world's largest peacekeeping force, currently made up of around 10,000 troops, have been hesitating for months to enter these parts of Sierra Leone. The RUF occupies approximately half of the country.

Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande and members of the UNAMSIL Contact Group have held several meetings with the RUF since the beginning of the year to facilitate the movement of peacekeepers into areas controlled by the Front. As the UNAMSIL has not been able to recruit enough peacekeepers, it needed extra assurances from the RUF before deploying troops. UN troops have been heavily criticised for this hesitation.

The RUF has agreed to remove its roadblocks on the Rogberi-Lunsar road and to ensure that Lunsar is a weapons-free zone, UN sources inform. UNAMSIL deployment into other RUF-held towns is expected in the coming weeks, the Mission said. On Saturday, 10 March, UNAMSIL troops had conducted a patrol to Lunsar to assess the general security situation of the area and conduct a recce for the deployment of troops. The patrol met with a RUF commander, Colonel Kallon, who stated that the RUF roadblocks on the Rogberi-Lunsar road would be withdrawn after UNAMSIL's deployment and that Lunsar would be a weapons-free zone.

Hopes for a UN troops deployment in RUF-held territory were great last year, until the peace process broke down in May 2000 after the abduction of more than 500 UN peacekeepers by the RUF. Only the deployment of British troops (not under UN command) supporting the Sierra Leone government managed to crush the RUF offensive and encourage the signing of a ceasefire in November.

The deployment of UN troops in RUF-held territory has since been seen as the test of whether the RUF in reality is willing to go for peace. UN troops start their deployment in Lunsar, a town of minor strategic importance. The next step in the process will be the deployment of UN peacekeepers in the diamond mining areas under RUF control.

Diamond mining, financing RUF operations, is widely seen as the root cause behind the conflict in Sierra Leone. A UN deployment in the mining areas, which theoretically should give the UN the possibility of monitoring the illegal diamond trade from this area, will be of great significance. There exists a worldwide embargo on the trade of Sierra Leonean diamonds not having a Freetown government certificate.

So far, however, press reports from Sierra Leone confirm a positive reaction from RUF officials to the UN deployment in Lunsar. An RUF official said the rebel group still had political demands, however, including the formation of an interim government of national unity to replace what he called "the corrupt regime in Freetown."

The RUF official added that the rebels were ready to work peacefully with the UN to achieve its aims. How the UN can cooperate with top RUF officials on an interim government however remains an open question, as most RUF leaders would have to be brought before the special UN tribunal for war crimes in Sierra Leone.

More Information on Sierra Leone and Liberia
More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on Peacekeeping


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