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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone ["Lion Mountain"] has been embroiled in a civil war that began in March 1991, as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) attempted to overthrow successive governments. On 22 October 1999, the Security Council established United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone [UNAMSIL] to cooperate with the Government and the other parties in implementing the Lome Peace Agreement and to assist in the implementation of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration plan. On 7 February 2000, the Council revised UNAMSIL's mandate. It also expanded its size, as it did once again on 19 May 2000 and on 30 March 2001.

The internal conflict involved multiple ethnic groups and resulted in an estimated 15,000 deaths from 1991 through 1996. By early 1999 estimates of the number of dead in the rebel war ranged upward from 50,000. At different times estimates of the number of displaced people were as high as 2.5 million - more than half of the entire population. As many as half a million persons fled to neighboring countries to escape the civil conflict, and remain outside the country on their own or in refugee camps, primarily in Guinea and Liberia. Over 250,000 citizens crossed the borders of Guinea and Liberia to escape the conflict; many thousands of others were displaced internally, and fled their homes to hide in wooded areas, or to towns where there are security forces and some degree of protection from rebel forces.

The conditions that existed in Sierra Leone made it vulnerable to a person like Foday Sankoh, leader of the Revolutionary United Front, to gather up disenfranchised young people who had not been paid for a long time. Over a period of twenty years, the central government gradually disintegrated as a result primarily of the political class, as they would say in Sierra Leone, eating everything in the government. Over a period of time, they destroyed the ability of the government to rule, to govern, to do anything on behalf of the people. They stopped years ago paying civil servants or teachers. And when the center disintegrated all the periphery went its own way. And people felt that they could not change this society through the political process because it had been compromised through the one-party state and through corruption.

Foreign involvement in the Sierra Leone conflict is a serious problem, and there is clear evidence that Liberia and Burkina Faso are supporting the rebel efforts. Sierra Leone's participation in the West African peace-keeping force, ECOMOG, that went into Liberia that provoked Charles Taylor's retaliation against Sierra Leone. Charles Taylor, now the president of Liberia, saw that intervention as hostile to him when he was fighting for power there. They also had the support of Libya, which sent weapons to them through Burkina Faso which were then transshipped overland through the Ivory coast, through Liberia, into Sierra Leone.

The diamond mining industry provides the rebels with potential revenue of approximately $300 million per year. Precisely how much is spent on small arms and ammunition is unknown. What is known is that arms are apparently procured in eastern Europe and staged through Burkina Faso and then continue on to Liberia for eventual delivery to rebel forces in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone is an extremely poor country. Before the civil war began in 1992, more than 70 percent of the 4.5 million citizens were involved in some aspect of agriculture, mainly subsistence farming. Although the country has substantial mineral resources, including diamonds, gold, rutile, and bauxite, official receipts from legal exports have been small in recent years. For decades the majority of diamond and gold production has been smuggled abroad. The economic infrastructure has nearly collapsed due to corruption, neglect, and war-related disruptions. The 6-year RUF insurgency dislocated more than 40 percent of the country's population, placing additional burdens on Sierra Leone's fragile economy.

Eighteen ethnic groups make up the indigenous population of Sierra Leone. The Temne in the north and the Mende in the South are the largest. About 60,000 are Creoles, descendants of freed slaves who returned to Sierra Leone from Great Britain and North America. Sierra Leoneans were noted for their educational achievement, trading activity, entrepreneurial skills, and arts and crafts work, particularly wood carving. Many are part of larger ethnic networks extending into several countries, which link West African states in the area. The colonial history of Sierra Leone was not placid. The indigenous people mounted several unsuccessful revolts against British rule and Creole domination. Most of the 20th century history of the colony was peaceful, however, and independence was achieved without violence.

Sierra Leone is an interesting country because it has no serious ethnic divisions. It has no serious religious divisions. It has no serious class divisions or regional divisions. People married across tribal boundaries, across religious boundaries, because the country is essentially a Muslim country with some Christians and some animists. But those divisions never really became an issue in early Sierra Leone. All ethnic groups use Krio as a second language, there is little ethnic segregation in urban areas. The two largest ethnic groups are the Temne in the northern part of the country and the Mende in the southern part; each of these groups is estimated to make up about 30 percent of the population.

Ethnic loyalty remained an important factor in government, the military, and business. Complaints of corruption within ethnic groups and ethnic discrimination in government appointments, contracts, military commissions, and promotions were common. There did not appear to be a strong correspondence between ethnic or regional and political cleavages. Ethnic differences also did not appear to contribute appreciably to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebellion, the 1997 coup, or the civil conflict. There was no identifiable ethnic or regional base of voluntary popular support for the rebels, who controlled territory by terror and coercion rather than by popular consent.

In October 1990, President Joseph Saidu Momoh set up a constitutional review commission to review the one-party 1978 constitution with a view to broadening the existing political process and strengthening and consolidating the democratic foundation and structure of the nation. There was great suspicion that Momoh was not serious, however, and All Peoples Congress (APC) rule was increasingly marked by abuses of power. The rebel war in the eastern part of the county posed an increasing burden on the country, and on April 29, 1992, a group of young Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) officers launched a military coup which sent Momoh into exile in Guinea and established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) as the ruling authority in Sierra Leone.

After 4 years of military government, which followed 25 years of one party rule, the Republic of Sierra Leone returned to civilian government after elections in March 1996. With 70 percent of the electorate participating, Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected President in the first free and fair elections since 1967.

On 30 November 1996, President Kabbah signed the Abidjan Peace Agreement with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which had been attempting to overthrow successive governments since March 1991. Joint Government and RUF committees were to oversee disarmament and demobilization of RUF and government forces.

The RSLMF was supported by Nigerian and Guinean military contingents and by personnel working under a training and logistics contract with Executive Outcomes, a private South African mercenary firm. In compliance with the November 1996 Abidjan Peace Agreement, President Kabbah terminated the contract with Executive Outcomes at the end of January 1997. For 20 months, Executive Outcomes had played the critical role in government efforts to protect major towns and diamond mining areas from RUF attacks. Groups of traditional hunters (including the Mende Kamajohs, Temne Kapras, and Koranko Tamaboros) organized as civil defense militias, with government support defended their chiefdoms from RUF attacks and RSLMF looting. Neither the RSLMF nor the civil defense militia were fully under government control.

Though the threat had significantly diminished by the time of the democratic elections in 1996, which brought President Kabbah to office, a number of serious problems remained, in particular, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had refused to participate in the elections and continued to control some of Sierra Leone's territory. It turned out near impossible to reconcile a government unfriendly army (who backed another candidate having already had to give up power) and the well-organised pro-government kamajors (the regional armed militia who had been trained by foreign mercenaries officially employed by a previous government to fight the RUF).

This friction culminated in an army-led coup in May 1997 -the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)-, which invited the RUF to join government in the hope to gain wider recognition. This was to be the first coup in Africa that had been effectively boycotted by the UN.

On 25 May 1997, dissident junior officers of the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) violently seized power from the 14-month-old democratically elected Government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. The United Nations Security Council condemned the overthrow of the government and called upon the military junta to restore the elected Government unconditionally. Major Johnny Paul Koroma, awaiting trial on charges stemming from a September 1996 coup attempt, was freed from prison and named Chairman of the new Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). The AFRC immediately suspended the Constitution, banned political parties and all public demonstrations and meetings, and announced that all legislation would be made by military decree. Koroma invited the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to join the AFRC in exercising control over the country. The RUF quickly took control of the military junta, although Koroma remained nominal Chairman of the AFRC. The RUF had conducted an insurgency against successive governments.

After 25 May 1997, the RUF joined with RSLMF troops loyal to the AFRC junta and renamed itself the People's Army of Sierra Leone. RSLMF forces loyal to the AFRC appear to function separately from RUF troops. They also fought occasional battles against each other. In June the AFRC formed joint military and police antilooting squads and gave them authority to shoot looters on sight.

On 08 October 1997, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions prohibiting the importation of weapons, military materiel, and petroleum as well as international travel by members of the military junta. Dozens of civilians were killed in clashes between AFRC/RUF forces and the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) as ECOMOG attempted to enforce the sanctions. On 23 October 1997, AFRC/RUF and ECOWAS delegations signed a peace plan calling for the restoration to power of President Kabbah on April 22, 1998.

In January 1998, the coup was (only partly and only temporarily, it turned out) overturned by 'ECOMOG' forces (the Nigerian-lead West Africa multilateral peace-keeping force) and significant progress in restoring order was made, by the returning democratic government. Notably, this was the first time that a coup against a democratic government in Africa had been reversed without UN intervention, suggesting a new and positive level of regional co-operation.

In March 1998 the Government, led by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who had been elected in 1996, was returned to power after 9 months in exile. The President's party, the Sierra Leone People's Party, has had a majority in the Parliament since 1996. The Government's return followed the February 1998 ouster of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and Revolutionary United Front. Throughout 1998 AFRC and RUF rebels committed numerous egregious abuses, including brutal killings, severe mutilations, and deliberate dismemberments, in a widespread campaign of terror against the civilian population known as "Operation No Living Thing."

One particularly vicious practice was cutting off the ears, noses, hands, arms, and legs of noncombatants who were unwilling to cooperate with or provide for the insurgents. The victims ranged from small children to elderly women; in some cases, one limb was cut off, in others two limbs, typically two hands or arms. Rebel forces also detained, decapitated, burned alive, and inflicted bullet and machete wounds on civilians; many died from their wounds before they could obtain any form of treatment. The rebel forces abducted missionaries and aid workers, ambushed humanitarian relief convoys and raided refugee sites. The junta forces continued the long-standing practice of abducting villagers and using them as forced laborers, as sex slaves, and as human shields during skirmishes with Government and ECOMOG forces. Boys were forced to become child soldiers. Rebel forces used rape as a terror tactic against women. Rebel atrocities prompted the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

The AFRC and RUF junta forces were defeated and driven out of Freetown by forces of the Economic Organization of West African States (ECOWAS) Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), led by the armed forces of Nigeria. In February and March 1998 there was fierce fighting throughout the country as ECOMOG and members of the Civil Defense Forces (CDF) continued to fight remnants of the AFRC and RUF, particularly in the larger cities outside the capital. However, government and ECOMOG forces failed to gain control of the whole country, and the civil conflict continued throughout 1998. In December 1998 AFRC AND RUF rebels infiltrated Freetown and, at year's end, controlled areas close to the capital.

Unfortunately clashes continued to occur between ECOMOG, rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) who attacked and re-entered Freetown in January, 1999. It was to be the saddest period of the 10year old conflict with reprisals and worst human suffering

Following the agreement of all parties to the principle of a negotiated settlement in February, 1999, a ceasefire was arranged for May 24, 1999 and a UN backed peace accord implemented.

The early months of 1999 were consumed with some of the bloodiest fighting in the country's eight-year civil war. By the end of January, the Nigerian-led ECOMOG peacekeeping force had regained control of Freetown - pushing the war back into Sierra Leone's rugged interior. But the cost of the assault on Freetown was staggering. Estimates suggest upwards of five or six-thousand people were killed, thousands more were injured, and still more thousands were left homeless by a rebel arson spree. The psychological impact of the invasion was equally important, leaving many Freetown residents - like Christina Leigh - fearing peace with the rebels would be impossible.

Pressure to resolve the crisis grew from the international community and from Nigeria's new civilian government, which wanted to bring its troops home. In May 1999 president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah allowed Foday Sankoh, the jailed chief of the Revolutionary United Front rebel movement to travel to Lome, Togo for talks with his military commanders. Eventually, teams of negotiators from the government and civilian groups joined the talks. After several weeks of difficult negotiations, a wide-ranging peace accord was signed on 07 July 1999.

Under the terms of the Lome accord, a cease-fire was agreed to, and the United Nations pledged to send a sizeable peacekeeping force to oversee the disarmament and demobilization of an estimated 45,000 combatants on both sides. Mr. Sankoh was pardoned and released from the death sentence he was facing for treason. Other combatants who had not engaged in heinous war crimes were also given a blanket amnesty, and the rebel factions were allotted four ministerial posts in a new government of national unity. Mr. Sankoh demanded and received a high-level position as well, being named chairman of a special commission on strategic resources - namely the diamonds that lie at the root of Sierra Leone's conflict.

In the months following the accord, Sierra Leone's peace process settled into the doldrums, and very little happened. Citing security concerns, Mr. Sankoh - and his ally former coup leader Johnny Paul Koromah - remained in Togo or Liberia, raising questions about their commitment to the July accord. Divisions also emerged between the two men - with Mr. Koromah's supporters accusing Mr. Sankoh of making their leader insignificant. And in September and October, a series of kidnappings and skirmishes erupted between the factions. Foday Sankoh returned to Sierra Leone in October, heralding what he called a new era, and asking the Sierra Leonean people for their forgiveness.

In the final weeks of 1999, Sierra Leone's peace process remained a work in progress, and many important parts of the July agreement had not been implemented. UN troops began arriving, but their numbers fell far short of the 6,000 authorized by the Security Council. This delay slowed the disarmament process, which had only recovered a token number of weapons, and raised suspicions on both sides. As Sierra Leone began the year 2000, disarmament was the key issue. Without it, political reforms, social reconciliation, jump starting the economy, and returning hundreds of thousands of refugees to their homes would be impossible.

In February 2000 the UN Security Council voted in enlarge UNAMSIL from 6,000 to 11,100 troops, making it the largest UN peacekeeping operation. At that time, the UN peacekeepers were taking on the duties of the departing 5,500-troop peacekeeping force of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), made up of units from Ghana, Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria.

All the parties to the settlement agreed to return to Freetown with a share in government and a UN peace keeping force, larger than that seen in Kosovo or Timor, was to be widely deployed in the country. However distrust continued to prevail on the intentions of each party, and UN peacekeepers after initial success in disarming RUF or AFRC groups, faced serious opposition when closing in on the alluvial diamond producing areas, and eventually fell victim to hostage taking in May 2000.

The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) subsequently reneged, refused to disarm and took hundreds of UN soldiers hostage. The United Nations force, which had been designed, equipped, and deployed as a peacekeeping force, was quickly forced into actual combat with RUF -- one of the parties that had pledged to cooperate with it. After Mr. Sankoh's forces fought with UN peacekeepers and had taken hundreds of them hostage, he himself was taken into custody by the Sierra Leone government.

The UN in close cooperation with President Taylor of Liberia managed to liberate the hostages with limited casualties, and the RUF found itself without leadership after the capture and imprisonment of their discredited spokesman Foday Sankoh.

The UN Security Council on 19 May 2000 authorized the expansion of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to 13,000 troops and military observers. The expansion was approved when West African nations, especially Nigeria, offered additional troops to the beleaguered UNAMSIL after about 500 peacekeepers were detained by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fighters who refused to be disarmed and the RUF began attacking UNAMSIL positions. In late May 2000 Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended that the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone be increased to 16,500 in order to help stabilize the peace, and suggested that more troops might be needed in the future to solidify the peace process.

On 14 August 2000 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1315, which requested "the Secretary-General to negotiate an agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone to create an independent special court," whose subject matter jurisdiction "should include notably crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law,"

The Special Court for Sierra Leone differs from the war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR). While the ICTY and ICTR were established by Chapter VII Resolutions of the Security Council, the Special Court is a treaty-based court established by the Agreement between the UN and Sierra Leone, and lacks the power of the ICTY and ICTR to assert primacy over national courts of other States or to order the surrender of an accused located in any other State. And unlike the ICTY and ICTR, which are composed exclusively of international judges elected by the UN General Assembly, and a Prosecutor selected by the Security Council, the Special Court is composed of both international and Sierra Leonean judges, prosecutors and staff.

On 18 January 2002, the devastating 11-year civil conflict officially ended when all parties to the conflict issued a Declaration of the End of the War. The Government since asserted control over the whole country, backed by a large U.N. peacekeeping force. Revolutionary United Front (RUF) insurgents, who fought successive governments since 1991, completed disarmament and demobilization. The Civil Defense Force (CDF), a government-allied militia, also disarmed and demobilized, but many CDF members retained informal links to act in concert as a veterans' lobbying group and in their centuries-old role as members of traditional hunting societies. In May 2002 peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections were held; Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was re-elected President and his Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) won a large majority in Parliament. Many international monitors declared the elections free and fair; however, there were numerous reports of election irregularities and abuses. Since the resumption of the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) process in May 2001, an estimated 72,500 former combatants disarmed; on 31 January 2002, the disarmament and demobilization sections of the program were completed. The process of reintegration continued at year's end. The U.N. maintained a force of approximately 17,500 peacekeepers during most of the year. In September 2002 the U.N. Security Council decided to begin a gradual withdrawal of U.N. Mission to Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) troops, to be completed by 2005. The official independent judiciary began functioning in areas abandoned during the war, but there still were sections of the country where the judiciary had not yet returned. The judiciary demonstrated substantial independence in practice but at times was subject to corruption.

The security situation in Sierra Leone, which has steadily improved since August 2000, was bolstered by the May 2002 re-election of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. However, areas near the Liberian border remain unstable as a result of continued border incursions by both the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and LURD. According to UN OCHA, the humanitarian community operating in Sierra Leone has developed an alert system to inform agencies of security incidents near the border. On July 16, 2002, LURD militia abducted 20 people from the villages of Sanga, Kolu, and Manduvuluhun. The villagers were still reported missing at the end of August and are presumed to be in Liberia.

On September 5, 2002, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended a six-month extension for the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and the gradual downsizing of the mission from the current level of 17,000 peacekeeping troops to 5,000 by 2004. The U.N. Security Council approved the renewal of UNAMSIL's mandate on September 18. President Kabbah requested the extension in August 2002, citing the threat posed to Sierra Leone's fragile peace by renewed insecurity in Liberia.

The Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) campaign in Sierra Leone officially ended on January 7, 2002. According to the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (NCDDR), approximately 21,000 of the 54,000 ex-combatants are participating in reintegration programs; 10,509 former soldiers have completed the program.

According to the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UN DPKO), less than 12,000 IDPs remained in Sierra Leone as of July 2002. The remaining IDPs are mainly in the Tonkolili District. UNHCR completed the resettlement of registered Sierra Leonean IDPs from camps in the Pujehun District in August 2002 leaving the camps occupied almost exclusively by Liberian refugees. The Government of Sierra Leone (GOSL) expects resettlement efforts to be completed by October 2002.

The number of refugees returning to Sierra Leone from Liberia continues to decline. As of September 2002, UNHCR reports indicated that approximately 30,000 Sierra Leoneans remained in Liberia. According to UN OCHA, the refugees are awaiting more favorable social and economic conditions to develop in Sierra Leone before returning. In September, repatriation vessels, with capacities of 300, transported between 50 and 100 returnees per trip. On September 10, UNHCR announced the temporary suspension of repatriation efforts until refugee demand increases. According to UNHCR, of the 2,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Nigeria, only 270 have registered for repatriation. UNHCR resumed overland repatriation of refugees from Guinea following a 42-day suspension resulting from logistical problems. As of August 2002, 42,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remained in Guinea.

Focus has since been on retraining a new Sierra Leone army, as well as further Ecomog reinforcement troops in Nigeria, by the UK and USA respectively. Meanwhile strategies have gradually been put in place to reduce illicit 'conflict' diamonds exports in order to reduce the RUF's source of funding. It is expected that an enlarged UN/Ecomog/Coordinated S L army possibly incorporating previous kamajors would eventually defeat the RUF and remaining AFRC now calling themselves the 'West Side Boys' illfamed for their capture of strayed British soldiers in Summer 2000; however a new RUF leadership under pressure seems more anxious to push for a negotiated settlement, as long as they can overcome their view that the UK's involvement is an extension of mercenary deployment that successfully crushed them years earlier.

High level visits demonstrate the world's readiness to alleviate the human tragedy and bring lasting peace to the subregion. Throughout the 10 year period, Sierra Leone has constantly improved its minerals legislation. For the time being a situation of force majeure exists, with the suspension of exploration work on Mano's licences. It is hoped that preliminary visits to permit areas in Sierra Leone will be possible in the near future.

Sierra Leone is rich in minerals and is one of the world's most important sources of large diamonds. The country also hosts gold, platinum, rutile, chrome, bauxite and iron. Major producers have included the Nord/Consolidated Rutile world-class rutile deposit, Alusuisse's bauxite operations and the famous Kono diamond fields worked for many years by Selection Trust at Yengema and Koidu.

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