TITLE=YEARENDER: SIERRA LEONE
INTRO: Sierra Leone has experienced great contrasts
during the past year. The early months were consumed
with some of the bloodiest fighting in the country's
eight-year civil war. By July, a peace agreement had
been signed, and Sierra Leoneans were able to take a
breath of optimism. But the year ends with some of
that optimism fading as delays and divisions within
the rebel camp stall implementation of the July peace
deal. From our West Africa bureau, Correspondent John
Pitman takes us back through the year's events.
TEXT: One of the first stories from Sierra Leone last
January began with the sound of a man screaming in
pain as his family laid him down on the damp concrete
floor of Freetown's main hospital.
A rebel assault on the capital was underway at the
time, and thousands of civilians were pouring into
hospitals and morgues with all kinds of wounds. The
man recorded had been shot in the leg.
Others like Lamine Jusugarka, also at Connaught
Hospital, suffered a more gruesome kind of injury: The
amputation of their arms or legs by rebel soldiers.
For Mr. Jusugarka and thousands of others, the rebels
offered their victims a grim choice: Put your hands on
the chopping block, or die.
/// OPT JUSUGARKA ACT ///
When they cut my hand, ohhh, I felt so bad. I
felt that I was finished in the world. My eyes
were dark, my blood was pumping as if they had
open a tank, a water tank, to run.
/// END ACT ///
By the end of January, the Nigerian-led ECOMOG
peacekeeping force had recovered from its initial
surprise and 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
/// OPT LEIGH ACT ///
I do not know, really, I do not know. Because
if these people were human beings, at least you
could sit them down and talk to them. But from
their behavior, it seems they are not human
brings. How can you talk to them?
/// END ACT ///
As it happened, talking to the rebels was possible,
and so was peace - at least on paper. 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,
president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah allowed Foday Sankoh, the
jailed chief of the main rebel movement, the
Revolutionary United Front, 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 July-seventh.
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-thousand
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
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.
/// SFX - MUSIC; ESTABLISH AND FADE UNDER TEXT ///
After the Lome accord was signed, things seemed to be
looking up in Sierra Leone. Peace has come -- sang
this musician, but not everyone was convinced it would
In the months following the accord, Sierra Leone's
peace process settled into the doldrums, and very
little happened. While the fragile cease-fire
remained in place, the rest of the process came to
resemble an opera in which half the cast - in this
case, Mr. Sankoh and his allies - refused to come on
stage for the second act.
/// OPT /// 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. /// END OPT ///
Foday Sankoh returned to Sierra Leone in October,
heralding what he called a new era, and asking the
Sierra Leonean people for their forgiveness.
/// SANKOH ACT ///
We are no longer in a state of war. We are in a state
of peace and our presence here today is a testimony to
our commitment to the full implementation of the Lome
peace accord . We have come to stay!
/// END ACT ///
In the final weeks of 1999, Sierra Leone's peace
process remains a work in progress, and many important
parts of the July agreement have not been implemented.
U-N troops have begun arriving, but their numbers fall
far short of the six-thousand authorized by the
Security Council. This delay has slowed the
disarmament process, which has only recovered a token
number of weapons, and raised suspicions on both
As Sierra Leone begins year 2000, disarmament will be
the key issue. Many say without it, political
reforms, social reconciliation, jump starting the
economy, and returning hundreds of thousands of
refugees to their homes will be impossible. (SIGNED)
15-Dec-1999 12:54 PM EDT (15-Dec-1999 1754 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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