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Sierra Leone - May 2000 - UN Held Hostage

In May 2000, as the UN peacekeepers moved into the diamond producing region and began to demobilise the rebels, the peace agreement collapsed when the rebels took 500 UN troops hostage and fighting resumed between the Sierra Leone Army and the rebels. Power-sharing ceased and Sankoh was arrested, though the hostages were released unharmed in due course. In July 2000 the UN resolved to ban trade in uncut diamonds from Sierra Leone until the government had established an authentication system but the illicit trade continued into 2001, when there were signs that the ban was beginning to be effective.

The Revolutionary United Front (RUF) subsequently reneged, refused to disarm and took hundreds of UN soldiers hostage. The United Nations force, which had been designed, equipped, and deployed as a peacekeeping force, was quickly forced into actual combat with RUF -- one of the parties that had pledged to cooperate with it. After Mr. Sankoh's forces fought with UN peacekeepers and had taken hundreds of them hostage, he himself was taken into custody by the Sierra Leone government.

The UN in close cooperation with President Taylor of Liberia managed to liberate the hostages with limited casualties, and the RUF found itself without leadership after the capture and imprisonment of their discredited spokesman Foday Sankoh.

The UN Security Council on 19 May 2000 authorized the expansion of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to 13,000 troops and military observers. The expansion was approved when West African nations, especially Nigeria, offered additional troops to the beleaguered UNAMSIL after about 500 peacekeepers were detained by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) fighters who refused to be disarmed and the RUF began attacking UNAMSIL positions. In late May 2000 Secretary-General Kofi Annan recommended that the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone be increased to 16,500 in order to help stabilize the peace, and suggested that more troops might be needed in the future to solidify the peace process.



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