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DATE=11/2/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=SIERRA LEONE SITREP (L ONLY) NUMBER=2-255744 BYLINE=JOHN PITMAN DATELINE=ABIDJAN CONTENT= VOICED AT: 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 accord. 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, "oppose peace." 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 Mr. Sankoh. 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 peacekeeping force. 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 government. /// 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) NEB/JP/JWH/ENE/KL 02-Nov-1999 13:49 PM EDT (02-Nov-1999 1849 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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