Global Policy Forum

UN Wants to Extend and Strengthen

March 20, 2001

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed that the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) be extended through September and has reiterated his recommendation to double its strength to 20,500 military personnel, to assist the Government in regaining control of key areas of the country. The recruitment remains however unclear.

Kofi Annan on Friday released his ninth report to the Security Council on Sierra Leone, in which the proposals were made. Here, he says additional troops will be required for the forward deployment of UN troops now that UNAMSIL has managed to consolidate its positions in its current areas of responsibility. The first, modest deployment of UNAMSIL troops in RUF-occupied territories (Lunsar) conveniently came about one week ago.

The UN mission currently has little more than 10,000 personnel, and can expect to have a total military strength of some 17,500 troops once new contingents that have been offered arrive in Sierra Leone, the Secretary-General writes. UNAMSIL has so far never been able to recruit as many personnel as the Security Council has provided for, and thus relied heavily on the independent British troops allied to the Sierra Leonean government to do risky military operations.

Noting that the situation in Sierra Leone has remained "relatively stable" since the signing last November of the Abuja Agreement, Mr. Annan points to the continuing reluctance by the "rebel" Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to disarm and to allow Government authority to be set up in areas under its control, noting that the rebels' actions leave "serious doubts about their intentions."

The RUF has lately been seen in open dialogue with UN representatives and has made minor commitments producing major headlines about the progress of the peace process in the country. So far, RUF have returned to UNAMSIL 56 personal weapons, 10 vehicles, and 20 armoured personnel carriers, which were part of the weapons and equipment seized by RUF from UNAMSIL contingents last year. However, those vehicles and armoured personnel carriers had been completely stripped of weapons and equipment and were not in a usable condition.

Analysts claim the new RUF leadership primarily has done a better job in public relations. As over 100,000 refugees were found trapped in the Guinean border area, where RUF-assisted terrorists destabilise the region, the RUF achieved headlines for helping the UN refugee agency organising a "safe corridor". Letting the UN deploy in military unimportant Lunsar last week, was the last "positive development" in the Sierra Leone conflict.

Also Kofi Annan remains sceptical in his conclusions. "In particular, it would appear that so far RUF is ready to implement only those aspects of the Abuja Agreement that pose no threat to its military strength and to its exploitation of the natural resources of the country," the Secretary-General writes. "Obviously, this position deepens considerably the reluctance on the part of the Government to engage RUF in a political dialogue and to create the confidence that is necessary for such a dialogue to bear fruit."

Mr. Annan also calls attention to the escalation in fighting along the Sierra Leone-Guinea border - particularly since January - and welcomes an initiative by both countries to set up a joint military body to ensure that Guinean operations against the RUF avoid causing civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, RUF ally Liberia, no under UN sanctions for its support to the Sierra Leonean "rebels", today decided to close its border with Sierra Leone "in an increasingly bitter row between the neighbouring countries" (BBC). The Sierra Leonean and Guinean ambassadors were also expelled from Monrovia; accused of involvement in "acts incompatible with their status". The government in Monrovia, now an international pariah, gave no details on its decision.

The Security Council is expected to discuss Sierra Leone in its consultations next week. It will then make a decision on the proposals from the Secretary-General (normally applauding them).

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


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