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Sierra Leone - November 1996 - Abidjan Peace Agreement

On 30 November 1996, President Kabbah signed the Abidjan Peace Agreement with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which had been attempting to overthrow successive governments since March 1991. Joint Government and RUF committees were to oversee disarmament and demobilization of RUF and government forces.

The RSLMF was supported by Nigerian and Guinean military contingents and by personnel working under a training and logistics contract with Executive Outcomes, a private South African mercenary firm. In compliance with the November 1996 Abidjan Peace Agreement, President Kabbah terminated the contract with Executive Outcomes at the end of January 1997. For 20 months, Executive Outcomes had played the critical role in government efforts to protect major towns and diamond mining areas from RUF attacks. Groups of traditional hunters (including the Mende Kamajohs, Temne Kapras, and Koranko Tamaboros) organized as civil defense militias, with government support defended their chiefdoms from RUF attacks and RSLMF looting. Neither the RSLMF nor the civil defense militia were fully under government control.

Though the threat had significantly diminished by the time of the democratic elections in 1996, which brought President Kabbah to office, a number of serious problems remained, in particular, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) had refused to participate in the elections and continued to control some of Sierra Leone's territory. It turned out near impossible to reconcile a government unfriendly army (who backed another candidate having already had to give up power) and the well-organised pro-government kamajors (the regional armed militia who had been trained by foreign mercenaries officially employed by a previous government to fight the RUF).

This friction culminated in an army-led coup in May 1997 -the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)-, which invited the RUF to join government in the hope to gain wider recognition. This was to be the first coup in Africa that had been effectively boycotted by the UN.

On 25 May 1997, dissident junior officers of the Republic of Sierra Leone Military Forces (RSLMF) violently seized power from the 14-month-old democratically elected Government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. The United Nations Security Council condemned the overthrow of the government and called upon the military junta to restore the elected Government unconditionally. Major Johnny Paul Koroma, awaiting trial on charges stemming from a September 1996 coup attempt, was freed from prison and named Chairman of the new Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). The AFRC immediately suspended the Constitution, banned political parties and all public demonstrations and meetings, and announced that all legislation would be made by military decree. Koroma invited the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) to join the AFRC in exercising control over the country. The RUF quickly took control of the military junta, although Koroma remained nominal Chairman of the AFRC. The RUF had conducted an insurgency against successive governments.

After 25 May 1997, the RUF joined with RSLMF troops loyal to the AFRC junta and renamed itself the People's Army of Sierra Leone. RSLMF forces loyal to the AFRC appear to function separately from RUF troops. They also fought occasional battles against each other. In June the AFRC formed joint military and police antilooting squads and gave them authority to shoot looters on sight.

On 08 October 1997, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions prohibiting the importation of weapons, military materiel, and petroleum as well as international travel by members of the military junta. Dozens of civilians were killed in clashes between AFRC/RUF forces and the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) as ECOMOG attempted to enforce the sanctions. On 23 October 1997, AFRC/RUF and ECOWAS delegations signed a peace plan calling for the restoration to power of President Kabbah on April 22, 1998.

In January 1998, the coup was (only partly and only temporarily, it turned out) overturned by 'ECOMOG' forces (the Nigerian-lead West Africa multilateral peace-keeping force) and significant progress in restoring order was made, by the returning democratic government. Notably, this was the first time that a coup against a democratic government in Africa had been reversed without UN intervention, suggesting a new and positive level of regional co-operation.

In March 1998 the Government, led by President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who had been elected in 1996, was returned to power after 9 months in exile. The President's party, the Sierra Leone People's Party, had had a majority in the Parliament since 1996. The Government's return followed the February 1998 ouster of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and Revolutionary United Front. Throughout 1998 AFRC and RUF rebels committed numerous egregious abuses, including brutal killings, severe mutilations, and deliberate dismemberments, in a widespread campaign of terror against the civilian population known as "Operation No Living Thing."

One particularly vicious practice was cutting off the ears, noses, hands, arms, and legs of noncombatants who were unwilling to cooperate with or provide for the insurgents. The victims ranged from small children to elderly women; in some cases, one limb was cut off, in others two limbs, typically two hands or arms. Rebel forces also detained, decapitated, burned alive, and inflicted bullet and machete wounds on civilians; many died from their wounds before they could obtain any form of treatment. The rebel forces abducted missionaries and aid workers, ambushed humanitarian relief convoys and raided refugee sites. The junta forces continued the long-standing practice of abducting villagers and using them as forced laborers, as sex slaves, and as human shields during skirmishes with Government and ECOMOG forces. Boys were forced to become child soldiers. Rebel forces used rape as a terror tactic against women. Rebel atrocities prompted the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

The AFRC and RUF junta forces were defeated and driven out of Freetown by forces of the Economic Organization of West African States (ECOWAS) Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), led by the armed forces of Nigeria. In February and March 1998 there was fierce fighting throughout the country as ECOMOG and members of the Civil Defense Forces (CDF) continued to fight remnants of the AFRC and RUF, particularly in the larger cities outside the capital. However, government and ECOMOG forces failed to gain control of the whole country, and the civil conflict continued throughout 1998. In December 1998 AFRC AND RUF rebels infiltrated Freetown and, at year's end, controlled areas close to the capital.

Unfortunately clashes continued to occur between ECOMOG, rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) who attacked and re-entered Freetown in January, 1999. It was to be the saddest period of the 10year old conflict with reprisals and worst human suffering. AFRC and RUF took it upon themselves once again to threaten to overthrow the democratic government by invading our capital Freetown, killing over 6,000 people and maiming many more in the process.

At this point the timely intervention of ECOMOG and UNAMSIL in putting an end to the bloodshed and restoring peace to the country was instrumental. Following the agreement of all parties to the principle of a negotiated settlement in February, 1999, a ceasefire was arranged for May 24, 1999 and a UN backed peace accord implemented.



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