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March 1991 - Revolutionary United Front (RUF)

In October 1990, President Joseph Saidu Momoh set up a constitutional review commission to review the one-party 1978 constitution with a view to broadening the existing political process and strengthening and consolidating the democratic foundation and structure of the nation. There was great suspicion that Momoh was not serious, however, and All Peoples Congress (APC) rule was increasingly marked by abuses of power. The 1991 multiparty constitution was not, however, implemented.

The civil war in Sierra Leone began in 1991 when the RUF led a guerrilla campaign to end the 23-year one-party rule by the All People?s Congress (APC). RUFs guerilla war began in March 1991 when its first incursion of approximately 100 Liberian commandos and conscripted Sierra Leoneans crossed into Sierra Leone and took the town of Bomaru, located within the eastern Sierra Leonean district of Kailahun. The vanguards or conscripted group of Sierra Leoneans fighting alongside the NPFL were some of the RUFs first child soldiers and originated from Sankohs understanding that he would need inexpensive fighters to wage a war quickly.

In the summer of 1990, he commanded RUF fighters to seek out and force Sierra Leonean and Liberian captives held in border areas between the two countries to fight for them or face death. Some of the first vanguard fighters were as young as seven years of age. The youngest vanguards would eventually form a group called the Small Boys Unit of the RUF. This set the precedent for the RUFs forcible recruitment of child soldiers during the civil war.

The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor, the Liberian political rebel was in control of seven-eighths of the Liberian countryside. War between the armed forces of Sierra Leone and the NPFL rebel invaders occurred periodically throughout the year 1991. During the first week of December 1991 Taylors forces again seized hold of border-area towns, despite the Sierra Leonean governments previous claims that Taylors forces had been fully subdued. Our informants suggest that Taylors rebellion is a serious one and is not likely to be suppressed in the near future without large-scale outside intervention.

The strength of Charles Taylors rebellion lay in his control of the vast portion of neighboring Liberia, including most of the border region with Sierra Leone. The NPLF is widely regarded as extremely brutal and merciless, often raping and/or killing people who are not willing to cooperate fully with them. Taylors men generally steal all items of value in the areas that they attack. The primary reason that the NPLF was laying siege to eastern and southern Sierra Leone appeared to be to gain control of the diamond mines in those areas.

Fighting with a rebel movement, the Revolutionary United Front, which had started in March 1991, escalated, and there were incursions from neighboring Liberia, the RUF in the south of the country being loosely in alliance with Liberian rebels.

The political opposition party leaders in Sierra Leone were universally convinced that President Momoh and his APC-dominated government did not wish to see this war end, because forestalling the wars conclusion also necessitated the continual postponement of elections. The opposition leaders were certain that the president sought to present himself to the Sierra Leonean public and to the international community as committed to multiparty democracy, and for this reason has allowed opposition parties to form, but will do everything possible to forestall national elections, including allowing the war with Taylors forces to be prolonged.

The rebel war in the eastern part of the county posed an increasing burden on the country. On April 29, 1992, a group of young Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) officers launched a military coup which sent Momoh into exile in Guinea and established the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) as the ruling authority in Sierra Leone. Captain Valentine Strasser took control after the coup by junior army officers, and the constitution was suspended. The war escalated and, despite air and ground support from Nigeria, and troops provided by Guinea, by 1995 at one point the government was in secure control only of the capital. In January 1996, Strasser was overthrown by his deputy Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.

The RUF waged a highly successful guerilla war campaign throughout the first year of conflict, forcing President Momoh to flee Sierra Leone and for a the temporary government of the National Provisional Ruling Council led by, Sierra Leone Army Captain Valentine Strasser to take his place. In 1993, with the help of Nigerian forces from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Sierra Leone Army pushed back RUF forces to the Liberian border, reclaiming diamonds mines that had previously been lost. The Sierra Leone Army became a victim of its own success when they started engaging in illegal diamond mining and selling after freeing former RUF controlled mines. By February 1995, the RUF regrouped and managed to take back Sierra Leone Army held territory.

Shortly thereafter in March, Strasser hired a private military contractor known as Executive Outcomes to train the Sierra Leone military forces and provide direct action support in fighting the RUF. Executive Outcomes performed their duties admirably and by March of 1996, were able push the RUF back to Liberia, provide enough security for Sierra Leone to hold elections.

After 4 years of military government, which followed 25 years of one party rule, the Republic of Sierra Leone returned to civilian government after elections in March 1996. With 70 percent of the electorate participating, Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was elected President in the first free and fair elections since 1967.




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