TITLE=SIERRA LEONE SITREP (L ONLY)
INTRO: In Sierra Leone, cracks appear to be widening
within the former rebel alliance. As V-O-A West
Africa Correspondent John Pitman reports, troops from
the rival factions have clashed sporadically since,
mid-October in and around the northern city of Makeni,
raising new questions about the fate of a peace
TEXT: After more than two weeks of sometimes heavy
fighting between factions of the former rebel
alliance, sources in Sierra Leone say the northern
city of Makeni is now calm.
But information from Makeni remains nearly impossible
to come by, and there are unconfirmed reports that the
fighting may have simply shifted to the town of
Lunsar, about 50 kilometers southwest of Makeni.
While it is clear that the two factions are fighting
each other, the reason why remains uncertain.
Speaking to reporters in Freetown this week, Foday
Sankoh, the head of the Revolutionary United Front, or
R-U-F, claimed responsibility for the October 15th
attack on Makeni, saying he ordered his men to root
out elements of the former army who, in his words,
Since the Lome peace agreement was signed in July,
elements of the former Sierra Leonean army have taken
up arms several times to protest what they call their
"marginalization" under the accord.
But former coup leader Johnny Paul Koroma, whose
supporters were attacked in Makeni, says Mr. Sankoh is
the real enemy of peace, accusing the R-U-F leader of
"gross violations" of the cease-fire signed in Lome.
/// OPT /// In a statement delivered to news
agencies in Freetown this week, Mr. Koroma accused the
R-U-F of, in his words, "creating mayhem" in northern
Sierra Leone. Mr. Koroma also said his men were under
strict orders not to engage in battle with the R-U-
F. /// END OPT ///
International observers say part of the conflict is
likely rooted in the former soldiers' dissatisfaction.
But they add that the clashes in Makeni may also stem
from an internal power struggle between Mr. Koroma and
There is also some speculation that Mr. Sankoh may be
trying to consolidate the R-U-F's hold on the rebel
zones before the deployment of a United Nations
Under terms of the Lome agreement, the warring sides
are to freeze their military positions when the blue
helmeted peacekeepers arrive. A U-N spokesman tells
V-O-A those international troops should start arriving
in Sierra Leone in about six weeks.
/// OPT /// This uncertainty about the motives
behind the rebels' internal clashes has fuelled
speculation in Sierra Leone's press that the rebels
may be preparing another offensive against the
/// OPT /// U-N officials and the government say a
new offensive is not likely, however, and they
stress that efforts are underway to reduce the tension
between Mr. Sankoh and Mr. Koroma. Mr. Sankoh has
also downplayed the rumors, saying this week that he
cannot overthrow a government that he is a part of.
/// END OPT ///
While the political repercussions of the violence in
Makeni may take months to work out, aid workers say it
is already straining humanitarian efforts to feed
civilians caught in the cross-fire.
Marc Gordon, of the French aid agency Action Against
Hunger, says his group had to stop working in Makeni
after fighters looted their trucks, communications
equipment, and food stocks.
Speaking to V-O-A from Freetown, Mr. Gordon says he
has "extremely grave" concerns about the fate of the
civilian population in Makeni.
/// GORDON ACT ///
Prior to the events of the 15th, certainly the
food security and nutritional status of the
population in Makeni was extremely fragile. We
had, for example, 600 severely malnourished
children in our therapeutic feeding center, who,
without the necessary care and treatment, will
not survive. We had another six-thousand
children going through the supplementary feeding
program in Makeni, who were moderately
malnourished, and obviously, with the food
insecurity in the town of Makeni, these children
will be at very high risk.
/// END ACT ///
Action Against Hunger and other international aid
groups are now lobbying Mr. Sankoh and Mr. Koroma for
what one United Nations official calls "credible"
security guarantees so they can resume their
operations in Makeni. (Signed)
02-Nov-1999 13:49 PM EDT (02-Nov-1999 1849 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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