Global Policy Forum

First UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone

BBC News
November 29, 1999

Kenyan soldiers are expected to be among the first to join the UN force. An advance party of United Nations peacekeeping troops has arrived in Sierra Leone, ahead of the first units from Kenya and India expected in the next few days. The 6,000 strong force will be be attempting to safeguard the peace agreement between government and rebel forces signed last July. The deployment had been due to begin last week, but was delayed for logistical reasons. The peacekeepers are going into a potentially dangerous situation with tens of thousands of fighters from the nine-year war still armed and, in some cases, active. The first unit of soldiers to be deployed are expected to be from Kenya. Over the next few weeks, a battalion of Indian troops will also arrive, along with the Indian military commander of the force.

Nigerian presence

The bulk of the peacekeepers will, however, be from West Africa, with Nigeria providing almost three battalions or about 2,500 troops. Nigeria, along with Ghana and Guinea, has already had soldiers in Sierre Leone for several years. They have been defending the democratically-elected Sierra Leone government against rebels who have committed widespread and horrific attrocities against civilians. Some of these West African troops will remain on the ground, but will now don blue helmets under UN command. Since the peace agreement was signed, some of the competing rebel leaders - including the main rebel figure, Foday Sankoh - have come to the capital, Freetown, and they say that they are working for peace.

Continuing atrocities

However, they have fought among themselves for territory even since the peace deal was signed, and thousands of their men remain in the bush committing continued atrocities and engaging in criminal activity. The UN talks optimistically about disarming all these men, but the disarmament programme is going painfully slowly, partly because soldiers who have already given up their guns are frustrated by not receiving the cash benefits that they have been promised. This has discouraged others from entering the disarmament camps. In the eastern district of Kailahun, people fleeing say that the rebel field commander, Sam Bockarie, known as Mosquito, has ordered his men not to give up their arms. They said there was a big rebel build-up in the area, which is near the Liberian border. And in response, the pro-government Kamajor tribal militiamen in the area are also refusing to disarm. Mosquito is one of the main commanders of the RUF rebels led by Foday Sankoh, who has signed the peace accord and joined a government of national unity.

More Information on Sierra Leone


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