Sierra Leone

Peace and democracy within reach for Sierra Leone


I am very glad to be able to visit Sierra Leone at the start of this new millennium. This is a time of promise and hope. No more so than for the people of Sierra Leone, who at last have a chance for lasting peace, after eight years of bestial brutality.

The suffering endured by the people of Sierra Leone beggars belief. The conflict has seen acts of abominable cruelty and inhumanity. The signs of violence and destruction, both human and material, are visible all around, and are deeply shocking to any visitor like me who cares about Africa.

As a son of Africa - born in Kenya, and brought up in South Africa until my parents had to leave because of their anti-apartheid activities - I am here to listen to people. I want to confirm Britain's strong support for the search for lasting peace in Sierra Leone. I want to demonstrate support for the people of Sierra Leone, who stood up for democracy during the years of violence.

The violence of the past has sickened us all. Those who reject peace have nothing to offer this country, except further violence. They must be consigned to history.

Last year, along with others in the international community, we supported the Government of Sierra Leone's courageous efforts to solve an apparently endless conflict through negotiation. This was the only way forward; there was no military solution to Sierra Leone's crisis. Such a conflict had to be resolved politically.

The Lomé Peace Agreement was a major achievement for the Government and people of Sierra Leone. ECOWAS states also played a vital role. ECOMOG troops helped to stabilise the security situation, and to create the conditions for political negotiations to take place. Nigeria deserves special praise. Britain supports the Lomé Agreement. If fully implemented, it gives Sierra Leone a way out of the cycle of violence. I believe that, unlike previous Agreements, this one can - and must - work.

To achieve genuine peace, several things must happen. First, the parties to the Agreement must honour their commitments. Foday Sankoh has said on numerous occasions that he is committed to peace. We will judge his words only by the actions of the RUF on the ground. The rebels must disarm. They must release all their prisoners. They must allow full access for government agencies such as the National Commission for Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Redevelopment, for humanitarian agencies and for the UN. Above all, they must stop their violence now and commit themselves to democracy. They should be reminded that there is no amnesty for crimes committed since the Lomé Agreement was signed.

All the leading figures - whether in government or in the rebel forces - must show leadership for peace not violence. Those who do not will not be forgiven. We and others will continue to press all the parties to the Agreement to early and full implementation. Parties cannot pick and choose which elements they will implement. All the bodies set up under the Agreement, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission must become operational. That is why I am very pleased to be able to announce that Britain will be providing =A3250,000 to help set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to help it become a meaningful and successful enterprise.

Second, we need to ensure the successful deployment of a robust and effective United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) force. UNAMSIL will have a central role in helping the parties to implement the Agreement. The parties must allow it to fulfil its role, throughout the country. I am glad that Britain has been able to help with the deployment.

I sympathise with those who wanted UNAMSIL here sooner. I am determined that UN peacekeeping operations should be sharper, more effective and swifter in response to crises in Africa, and elsewhere. Last month, I visited New York to discuss how this might be achieved.

The third thing that must happen for lasting peace to be achieved in Sierra Leone is that all former combatants must enter the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) camps. Britain is also of course helping here; I would like to pay tribute to the DFID staff who are setting up and administering the camps. There has been some progress recently. But organisational and security problems remain. In particular, we must explain clearly what the DDR programme involves. This is important if we are to encourage more ex-combatants to enter the programme. It is also important if we are to sensitise the communities into which these former combatants are to return. We must explain that DDR is a lifeline: it gives former combatants the chance to turn away from violence for ever; the chance of food and shelter; the chance to redeem themselves; the chance to re-establish themselves in civilian life, and to learn a trade, so that they might put something back into the communities they have helped to destroy.

Fourth, we need to demonstrate that everyone is better off at peace. This means widening international support for Sierra Leone. Britain, as you know, is already providing substantial assistance. We are helping to train a new, democratically accountable Sierra Leone Army and police force; we are strengthening good governance and anti-corruption; and we are promoting human rights as an integral part of all these activities. Britain has also helped with the re-engagement of the major international funding institutions through its support for debt repayment.

Fifth, we must ensure that the rich natural resources of Sierra Leone benefit all its people. I am determined to look for ways to stamp out the theft of Sierra Leone's diamonds, and the way they have been used to fund conflict, not to fund peace, stability and prosperity. Diamonds must be used to help re-build Sierra Leone's schools and hospitals, not to destroy them. Why is it that the Government of Sierra Leone derives almost no revenue from diamond sales? And why am I told that Liberian annual diamond exports are way beyond its annual diamond mining capacity? The Lomé Peace Agreement calls for the Government of Sierra Leone to exercise full control over the exploitation of gold, diamonds and other resources for the benefit of all the people of Sierra Leone. The Agreement also makes clear that Sierra Leone's natural resources must be used legitimately, to help fund public education, health, compensation for victims of the conflict and national reconstruction. What the parties must now do is to translate their words into reality. We are ready to help make this happen. As a sign of this, we are presenting some office equipment to help set up the new Strategic Resources Commission.

Finally, we want to work with the Government of Sierra Leone and ECOWAS to help tighten the region's ability to actually prevent conflicts. The UN, the OAU and ECOWAS must all co-operate more closely, to make sure that African problems do not degenerate into conflicts.

Britain's key objective in Sierra Leone is to help create the conditions for free and fair democratic elections to be held in spring 2001. This is essential if Sierra Leone is to make the transition from conflict to genuine peace. For successful elections to be held, security and access to all parts of the country will be necessary for all political parties, for UNAMSIL and for international election observers. Britain is already helping the Government of Sierra Leone to prepare the ground for these elections. We also want to help strengthen all political parties, including the new RUF Party: but this depends on full commitment to exclusively democratic principles.

Unless the parties are committed to peace, the international community, including Britain, will be reluctant to offer further assistance to Sierra Leone. You must take the lead in re-building your country: no-one else can.

I believe that Sierra Leone is now turning the corner. You can make this beautiful country a free country; a democratic country; a prosperous country; a stable country; and a safe country for its people. Britain wants to help you to make this vision a reality.