Global Policy Forum

Rebels Without a Future


By Lansana Gberie

May 22, 2001

Sierra Leone's rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), may be breathing its last after over 10 years of brutal warfare. In recent months the RUF has been bloodied by Guinean troops, intimidated by the robust presence of tough-talking British troops, and had their Liberia lifeline virtually cut-off by United Nations sanctions on Monrovia.

"This war will be wrapped up before December 2001," said UK army Brigadier Jonathon Riley. Brigadier Riley, who until recently was the commander of British forces in Sierra Leone, described the RUF as "virtually a spent force". Few would doubt him.

UN help

In a spectacular move in April the RUF called on the UN mission in Sierra Leone (Unamsil) to deploy in their most prized possession: the diamond-rich Kono district. The district, which the RUF have held since 1998, has been its principal source of revenue and support for them.

The RUF's call did not come out of the blue. The area was under serious attack from the Donsus, traditional fighters from the Kono region. They had been armed and deployed against the RUF by Guinean troops. I saw about 1,000 of the fighters in Guinea during a visit there in early March.

Guinea's south-eastern forest region, rich in alluvial diamonds, had been under attack from RUF and Liberian mercenaries since September last year and Guinea was now hitting back. Guinea succeeded in pushing back the RUF rebels, with the help of four helicopter gunships operated by Ukrainians, and then launched attacks on rebel bases in Sierra Leone and Liberia from the air.

On the ground, they had the Donsus carry out attacks against the RUF in Sierra Leone and have been supporting the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (Lurd) to hit back at President Charles Taylor in Liberia's Lofa County.


The attacks against both the RUF and the Liberians have been devastating. After the attacks on Kono threatened to destroy the RUF, its commander Issa Sesay called up reinforcements to the area. But, according to UN observers and the British forces in Sierra Leone, he could only muster 50 volunteer fighters. Many of the RUF fighters, UN observers say, had been rushed to Liberia to defend President Taylor against the growing threat of Lurd.

The irony of the situation is that the RUF, which had originally opposed the presence of the UN troops in the country, now needs Unamsil more than Sierra Leone's Government.

There have been reports that individual RUF fighters have been descending on UN camps in the north and east of the country to disarm, but timid UN troops, fearful of offending the RUF command, have been turning them back.

This may not be necessary now. The RUF this week dropped a crucial condition for disarming: that the Sierra Leone army, with which it has fought since 1991, also disarms. The rebels are also handing in more weapons to the UN, which then hands over the demobilised fighters to the Sierra Leone government-controlled disarmament and demobilisation camps.

Francis Kai Kai, who heads the demobilisation project, believes that the process will be complete before December, when general elections are due. Whether the RUF can be a political force without weapons is another matter.

More Information on Sierra Leone and Liberia


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