Global Policy Forum

Sierra Leone Government, Rebels Say Peace


By Abhik Kumar Chanda

Agence France Presse
April 4, 2001

The Sierra Leonean government and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group appear more upbeat than ever that an end to the 10-year-old bloody civil war is at hand. But observers say moves to end the conflict -- which has claimed the lives of at least 200,000 people and the limbs of thousands of innocent civilians -- are fraught with stumbling blocks.

Sierra Leone Information Minister Julius Spencer told AFP that RUF was under increasing pressure to end its decade-long campaign against successive governments in Freetown. "The prognosis for peace is very, very good," Spencer said. "In the next few months, there should be some results. "The United Nations ... has deployed the largest peacekeeping force in the world here," he said.

RUF's traditional backer, Liberian President Charles Taylor, he added, was also succumbing to international sanctions and telling the rebels to talk peace. Taylor is accused of supplying arms to the RUF in return for "blood diamonds" mined from RUF-controlled areas in northern and eastern Sierra Leone.

Spencer said RUF had split, with one faction, headed by Issa Sesay, ready for peace and a smaller group "of die-hard Foday Sankoh loyalists and Charles Taylor surrogates bent on continuing in the same path." RUF leader Sankoh, a hardliner, is currently in jail in Freetown.

The rebels are also reeling from Guinean aerial bombardments on their bases in eastern Sierra Leone following charges by Conakry that they were staging attacks on Guinea. Colonel Molleskey Kallon, a RUF "political commissar" who was in charge of the RUF-held northern town of Lunsar where UN military forces redeployed recently after a 10-month gap, echoed Spencer. "We are ready for peace ... it is the best solution. There is no loser or winner in this war. Dialogue is the only way."

Kallon, however, appeared unrepentant about RUF atrocities on innocent civilians in their bid to create a climate of terror. Their modus operandi included chopping off the limbs of hapless civilians, looting, rape and murder.

"Sierra Leone has been a place like an animal farm. Only the strongest survive. We wanted to stop corruption in the government but student demonstrations failed," he said. "So somebody had to take up the barrel." Kallon said for him the prerequisite to peace included "freeing all our detained brothers", including Sankoh; a halt to British military training of the Sierra Leonean army and a "clean government."

A humanitarian source said he was sceptical of ongoing talks between Freetown and the rebels. "The RUF has gone back on its word so many times ... I wonder if they are serious."

Academic Sam During was equally sceptical. "The RUF needs to go the extra mile to convince us of its sincerity this time." A major bone of contention is that the military training of the Sierra Leonean army and the Kamajors -- a civilian vigilante group -- are a step back from a 1999 peace accord which committed both sides to a ceasefire and disarmament.

Minister Spencer, who puts the strength of the armed forces at around 12,000 and the Kamajors at roughly 90,000 as opposed to a RUF strength of some 15,000, said the government had not reneged on any pact. "We are the legitimate and elected government and we can enter into any bilateral agreement with Britain to protect national interests," he said.

A UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) official said a big obstacle to peace in the west African country was that junior Defence Minister Hinga Norman was promoting the Kamajors -- a ragtag force comprised mainly of illiterate peasants -- to promote his own interests. "He is pushing them as a support base and preparing them for an eventual induction in the army," the official said. "The problem is nobody is clean in this war, not even government officials."

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


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