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Sierra Leone - July 1999 - Lome Accord

The early months of 1999 were consumed with some of the bloodiest fighting in the country's eight-year civil war. By the end of January, the Nigerian-led ECOMOG peacekeeping force had 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.

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 1999 president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah allowed Foday Sankoh, the jailed chief of the Revolutionary United Front rebel movement 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 on 07 July 1999.

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 45,000 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.

In the months following the accord, Sierra Leone's peace process settled into the doldrums, and very little happened. 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. Foday Sankoh returned to Sierra Leone in October, heralding what he called a new era, and asking the Sierra Leonean people for their forgiveness.

In the final weeks of 1999, Sierra Leone's peace process remained a work in progress, and many important parts of the July agreement had not been implemented. UN troops began arriving, but their numbers fell far short of the 6,000 authorized by the Security Council. This delay slowed the disarmament process, which had only recovered a token number of weapons, and raised suspicions on both sides. As Sierra Leone began the year 2000, disarmament was the key issue. Without it, political reforms, social reconciliation, jump starting the economy, and returning hundreds of thousands of refugees to their homes would be impossible.

In February 2000 the UN Security Council voted to enlarge UNAMSIL from 6,000 to 11,100 troops, making it the largest UN peacekeeping operation. At that time, the UN peacekeepers were taking on the duties of the departing 5,500-troop peacekeeping force of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), made up of units from Ghana, Guinea, Mali, and Nigeria.

All the parties to the settlement agreed to return to Freetown with a share in government and a UN peace keeping force, larger than that seen in Kosovo or Timor, was to be widely deployed in the country. However distrust continued to prevail on the intentions of each party, and UN peacekeepers after initial success in disarming RUF or AFRC groups, faced serious opposition when closing in on the alluvial diamond producing areas, and eventually fell victim to hostage taking in May 2000.



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