Global Policy Forum

UN Council Extends Sierra Leone Troops

September 20, 2000

The UN Security Council extended until the end of the year on Wednesday the mission in Sierra Leone but did not increase the number of troops to give the U.S. Congress time to come up with funds while the United Nations tries to recruit more soldiers.

The vote was 15-0 on a resolution that would renew the U.N. Mission in Sierra Leone, known as UNAMSIL, until December 31 and begin discussions on a more robust mandate and expansion of the force by the end of October, after a Security Council mission visits the region. ''We have gone for that Dec. 31 date because there are American financial considerations that make it advisable to have a slightly longer period so that Congress can look at the financing for this,'' British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock said.

U.S. officials said Congress could not operate on a mandate that did not run until the end of the year. In addition the Republican-dominated Congress has been wary of increasing any funds for Sierra Leone since some 500 U.N. peacekeepers were captured by rebels last May.

The operation was authorised by the Security Council in October 1999 as a 6,000-member force. It was successively increased to a strength of 13,000 -- making it the biggest U.N. field operation. The council will be considering a British-drafted resolution to raise this figure to 20,500.

''UNAMSIL is doing very good work in holding the position in the west of the country,'' Greenstock said. ''But the rebels are still active and brutal in the east of the country and diamonds are still being exploited through neighbouring countries.'' He said the council was determined to restore stability in Sierra Leone, a former British colony, beginning with a mission he will lead between October 7 and 14. This will begin in Conakry, Guinea, go to Freetown, the Sierra Leone capital, and other places in the country, visit Liberia and end the trip in Bamako, Mali.

In Liberia, council diplomats say the government led by President Charles Taylor is still in daily contact with rebels from the Revolutionary United Front, who re-ignited a civil war when peacekeepers ventured too close to diamond mining areas. They say the country is still reaping its share of the diamond smuggling, outlawed by the council. Taylor and his ministers deny this.

The Sierra Leone mission is also plagued by not enough countries volunteering soldiers to bring the number of peacekeepers up toe 20,000. "The secretary general wants to make sure he has all the troop contributors lined up," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said. "That is not yet the case. He does not yet have them."

In May, in violation of a July 1999 peace accord, rebels took about 500 U.N. peacekeepers hostage for several weeks and stripped many of them of their weapons and equipment. Annan, in an August report on Sierra Leone, said there had been "a serious lack of cohesion within the mission as well as a number of other shortcomings."

There was no commonly shared understanding of the mandate and rules of engagement, and there were other problems of command and control, he said. Some contingents were "insufficiently prepared to deal with the difficult environment and logistic challenges on the ground" in spite of extensive briefings.

Annan said an important cause of these shortcomings was the "fast growth of the mission from a small team of military observers to a large multidisciplinary peacekeeping operation" with complex organisational and logistical requirements.

More Information on Sierra Leone


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