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DATE=12/15/1999 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=YEARENDER: SIERRA LEONE NUMBER=5-45003 BYLINE=JOHN PITMAN DATELINE=ABIDJAN CONTENT= VOICED AT: 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 be impossible. /// 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 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. /// 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 stay. 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 sides. 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) NEB/JP/GE/RAE 15-Dec-1999 12:54 PM EDT (15-Dec-1999 1754 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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