Disband military, Sierra Leone president urges
But President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah emphasized at a meeting in Manhattan that future economic //development depended on the West African nation's security, and he outlined several options being considered to replace the embattled country's armed forces.
"We as a government have decided that our military is completely discredited and should be disbanded," Kabbah said to shouts of approval and sustained applause from the audience.
Options being considered included a civil defense force, which he said was acceptable to the people of Sierra Leone, a less palatable plan for a new security force in which 20 percent of the discredited army would be re-engaged or a regional multinational force.
One specific proposal was that new recruits into any armed service be screened and approved by local authorities, Kabbah said.
He also cited Costa Rica as a potential model for Sierra Leone, noting that the Central American nation endured years of upheaval before disbanding its army but had suffered no coups since that move.
Adding that no final conclusion had been reached, he said that security was vital to future foreign investment in Sierra Leone, and "we cannot risk jeopardizing the security interests of our country."
Kabbah was in New York to attend a U.N. conference on Sierra Leone considering issues such as how to capture rebels who have murdered and maimed civilians and how to deal with the rebels, led by Foday Sankoh, who has been turned over to Sierra Leone by Nigeria to face charges.
Kabbah was resoundingly hissed and booed when he said that Sankoh, if vindicated by the legal justice system, should be forgiven.
"There will be no sustainable peace" if Sierra Leone cannot get past such issues, the president said. But taken aback by the crowd's disapproval, he quickly added: "My own gut feeling is the evidence is overwhelming. ... I cannot see how he can get out ... not only as president but as a lawyer."
Earlier Kabbah was applauded when he said "reconciliation without justice will not be true reconciliation."
Kabbah said he was "most pleasantly surprised by the extent of support that has been given to our country by the entire (U.N.) General Assembly" at the conference.
Sounding an optimistic note, he said that "there is peace in 90 percent of Sierra Leone today" and vowed that the rebels would be brought to justice.
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