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DATE=9/4/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=SIERRA LEONE / NIGERIA (L-O) NUMBER=2-253461 BYLINE=JOHN PITMAN DATELINE=ABIDJAN CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: The commander of ECOMOG, the West African peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, says Nigeria has suspended the withdrawal of its troops from the country. As V-O-A's John Pitman reports from our West Africa bureau, the decision to stop the withdrawal comes amid renewed concerns about security around Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown. TEXT: ECOMOG's force commander, Nigerian General Gebriel Kpamber, announced the suspension of the troop withdrawal on Saturday, in an address broadcast on Sierra Leonean radio and television. Speaking to V-O-A by telephone after the address, General Kpamber said the decision to stop the withdrawal was made after Sierra Leone's president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, and the United Nations secretary general, both appealed for continued Nigerian military support. Sierra Leone is currently implementing the first stages of a peace agreement signed by the government and rebels in July. However, delays in disarming combatants on both sides - and a spate of kidnappings by disgruntled rebels - have raised concerns about security in the country. Rumors have also reportedly circulated in the capital, Freetown, that the rebels could launch another assault on the city if the delays continue. For his part, General Kpamber said rumors of a rebel attack were, in his words, "unfounded." But he conceded that Sierra Leoneans are anxious about the future of the peace accord. /// KPAMBER ACT /// There is an anxiety on the part of the rebels and the public to disarm and get into all the other aspects of the peace accord. But the problem, really, is there is an opportunity for the disarmament to be conducted. But if it is not done, the public is not safe. It is also expected that the rebels might change their minds if nobody's willing to disarm them. /// END ACT /// A United Nations peacekeeping force has been charged with disarming and reintegrating soldiers from the rebel and pro-government forces. General Kpamber said ECOMOG would also assist the U-N troops. //REST OPT// Following the signature of the peace accord in July, Nigeria began pulling some of its soldiers out of Sierra Leone. For security reasons, General Kpamber would not say how many soldiers had already left Sierra Leone. But published news reports say about 12- hundred Nigerians have returned home since July. At its peak, close to 12-thousand Nigerian soldiers served in ECOMOG, forming the backbone of the force. ECOMOG has backed the government in Sierra Leone since 1997, when it helped restore President Kabbah to power after a coup. In his radio address, General Kpamber sought to dispel concerns that ECOMOG had been weakened by the first round of withdrawals, saying the force would continue to guarantee people's lives and property. Speaking to V-O-A, General Kpamber expanded on the role ECOMOG will continue to play in Sierra Leone. /// KPAMBER ACT /// The troops we have on the ground are up to the task. They are capable of carrying out the tasks, operational tasks assigned to them in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program. We feel we can do that task and we feel we can start the disarmament without any delay. /// END ACT /// Concerns about security in Sierra Leone have intensified in recent weeks as small groups of disgruntled former soldiers have complained that their interests were not addressed by the peace agreement. (signed) NEB/JP/JO 04-Sep-1999 14:18 PM EDT (04-Sep-1999 1818 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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