Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: IRIN Special Report on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
ABIDJAN, 31 January 2000 (IRIN) - The disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration into society of the estimated 45,000 ex-combatants in Sierra Leone has taken longer than originally envisaged, partly because of logistical problems, fear and mistrust, government and UN sources say.

However, efforts to encourage former fighters to disarm, the deployment of UN peacekeepers along with moves to increase their strength, and financial support from the international community are expected to speed up the process.

Under the terms of the peace agreement the government and the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) signed on 7 July 1999 in Lome, the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programme was to start within 6 weeks (ie by 18 August) but it was not officially launched until 20 October.

At the launch, the deadline set for the end of the disarmament phase was 15 December. However, as at 23 January only about 13,100 ex-combatants had been disarmed, according to the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (NCDDR), the government body responsible for managing the DDR process.

This figure includes 3,804 "loyal Sierra Leone Army (SLA)", a term which, an NCDDR source told IRIN, "refers to those who fought alongside ECOMOG up until the time that the Lome Agreement was signed".

It also includes 1,414 "Phase One" ex-combatants - people disarmed and demobilised before the programme was officially launched. These are mainly SLA soldiers who served under the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) junta that overthrew President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in May 1997, but who surrendered when troops from ECOMOG - Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Peace Monitoring Group - restored Kabbah to power in February 1998.

In addition, over 5,000 weapons and 63,000 rounds of ammunition had been collected, NCDDR said.

Division of responsibilities

To date, ECOMOG's responsibilities have included the provision of security at the DDR sites and the disarming of ex-combatants at the sites - witnessed by the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). ECOMOG also guards the weapons and ammunition retrieved during the disarmament process and helps to destroy them.

ECOWAS decided to repatriate its peacekeepers but later suspended their withdrawal. UNAMSIL will eventually take over ECOMOG's tasks providing the UN Security Council approves UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal to increase the number of UN peacekeepers from 6,000 to 11,100.

The NCDDR, assisted by the World Bank, is responsible for managing the demobilisation camps, which includes determining policy and administration. The physical infrastructure of the camps is maintained by the Emergency Response Team (ERT), which is funded by the British Department for International Development. "ERT is responsible for the provision of water, sanitation, food, shelter and health care," Gillian MacLean, first secretary for development at the British High Commission in Freetown, told IRIN.

Reasons for the delay

Logistical problems are among the reasons for the delay in the DDR programme, according to government, UN and ECOMOG sources.

"We located the demobilisation camps on the front line in areas which were previously inaccessible," NCDDR Executive Secretary Francis Kaikai told IRIN, "and we did not know troop strengths in these locations." He said the various armed groups - the Civil Defence Force (pro-government militias), the RUF and the ex-SLA/AFRC - had still not said exactly what their military strength was, which meant that the figure of 45,000 remained an estimate.

Demobilisation camps have been established at Lungi, just outside Freetown, at Kenema and Daru in the east, and at Port Loko, some 60 km north of the capital.

In a report dated 11 January, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "The discharge of ex-combatants from the camps has been delayed as a result of logistical problems, including the preparation of identification cards..." This delay creates problems as the two demobilisation camps at Port Loko are already congested, according to Lieutenant Colonel Chris Olukolade, ECOMOG's spokesman in Sierra Leone.

"We cannot tell newly-arrived ex-combatants to go back to the bush," Olukolade told IRIN, "but we also do not like to have them hanging around for too long for security reasons."

Alimamy Koroma, general secretary of the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone, told IRIN: "I have heard reports of people in the bush who want to come into the camps at Port Loko ... but are unable to do so because the camps are saturated." Kaikai told IRIN on 25 January: "We are trying to transfer some of the ex-combatants to Lungi but we are having difficulties convincing them to move."

The ex-combatants can stay in the demobilisation camps for any time period between 3 weeks and 3 months, according to MacLean. "The registration process usually takes about a week and the ex-combatants also have to go through the pre-discharge training which takes two weeks," MacLean told IRIN. "After that they are free to go but some are reluctant to do so as they come from insecure areas."

Nevertheless, the UN Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit (HACU) noted in a 5-16 January report that the number of discharged ex-combatants in Port Loko District was on a "slow, steady rise".

HACU also reported that in the Kabala area in the far north of the country, hundreds of armed RUF and ex-SLA/AFRC were harassing civilians and creating a very insecure environment. "It is critical that the DDR process be extended to Kabala as soon as possible," HACU said.

Holding back because of fear and mistrust

Mistrust between the different armed groups has also been a cause of delay, according to Kaikai. He cited differences between the ex-SLA/AFRC, who have a base in the Occra Hills, north of Freetown, and the RUF in Lunsar, northeast of the capital. He also mentioned mistrust between the RUF and the CDF in the east. A diplomatic source in Freetown told IRIN "the RUF are unhappy that some of the loyal SLA have not yet been disarmed and are still providing security in some parts of the north, particularly Kambia and Kabala".

Apprehension over their future is cited as another reason why some ex-combatants are reluctant to enter the DDR programme. "Some have committed the most unspeakable atrocities and they are not convinced that they will be forgiven if they turn themselves in," Kaikai told IRIN.

Peter Hain, minister of state in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said in Freetown on 13 January that efforts needed to be made to explain the DDR programme to both ex-combatants and the communities to which they were to return.

"We must explain that DDR is a lifeline," Hain said. "It gives former combatants the chance to turn away from violence for ever; the chance of food and shelter ... to reestablish themselves in civilian life, and to learn a trade, so that they might put something back into the communities they have helped to destroy."

In addition, more needs to be done to reassure former combatants that the needs of their families will be met, according to Florian Fichtel, who represents the World Bank in Freetown. Fichtel told IRIN this was a concern commonly expressed by ex-combatants and that while some families were being looked after in the Port Loko camps, in other areas they were not.

Renewed sensitisation drive

In the past month the campaign to sensitise former fighters to the DDR programme has intensified. In early January a sensitisation team including Sankoh, Deputy Defence Minister Hinga Norman and Major General Gabriel Kpamber, ECOMOG's force commander, urged ex-combatants in the eastern towns of Bo, Kenema and Tongo Field to hand in their weapons.

Norman also heads the Kamajor militia - the main force in the CDF - and is credited with transforming it from a group of traditional hunters into the effective fighting force that rose to Kabbah's defence after he was ousted by the AFRC. The towns of Bo and Kenema, which were never captured by the RUF, are Kamajor strongholds.

"The Kamajors have been reluctant to disarm at the Kenema DDR site, mainly through mistrust," a political analyst in Freetown told IRIN. "The appearance of Hinga Norman and Foday Sankoh side by side should bolster their confidence."

On 15 January, a team including Sankoh, Kpamber, the government minister for the Eastern Region and journalists went to the diamond-rich Kono district, some 250 km east of Freetown, to continue the sensitisation process. This was the first time Sankoh had appeared in Kono with ECOMOG and government representatives, something many saw as symbolically important in an area which has frequently changed hands since the start of the rebel war in 1991, even though it has been under RUF control since 1998.

Bockarie no longer an excuse

Sankoh's dismissal of his former right hand man, Sam Bockarie, and Bockarie's departure for Liberia on 18 December should also boost the DDR programme.

Bockarie openly defied Sankoh by refusing to disarm to ECOMOG or Nigerian soldiers and reportedly detained two MSF staff members for a week at the beginning of December, apparently to register his dissatisfaction.

According to Annan the situation in the eastern area of Kailahun, Bockarie's former zone of operations, has calmed down since his departure and most RUF commanders in the area - and in the north - have reaffirmed their commitment to Sankoh. "The pressure is now on the RUF in the east to demobilise," a source with close links to the area told IRIN. Another source added: "Bockarie can no longer be used as an excuse."

Asked on 27 January why RUF members were not going into the DDR camp in Daru - southwest of Kailahun - Sankoh told IRIN that the "necessary structures" were not there. "There are no ceasefire committees and no logistics," he added.

Increased donor support

The international community, which has long advocated the importance of DDR to peace, is providing increased financial support. In December the World Bank approved a US $25-million credit for a Community Reintegration and Rehabilitation Project in Sierra Leone. Of this amount, about US $8 million will go to DDR.

"This will finance training and employment programmes for ex-combatants, the provision of technical assistance and the operational costs of the government's DDR programme," Fichtel told IRIN in mid-January. "The project will be effective by the end of January or beginning of February."

A World Bank-administered multi-donor trust fund in support of the government's DDR programme now has US $12 million in firm pledges and cash. Britain is the highest contributor - US $5.6 million - while Norway, Germany and Canada have also contributed, Fichtel said. Italy and the Netherlands have made pledges, he added.

UNAMSIL deployment speeds up process

The arrival of more than 4,500 UNAMSIL troops in Sierra Leone and their deployment in much of the country has helped to restore "public calm", Annan said. It will also enable UNAMSIL to execute a key part of its mandate: helping the government to carry out its DDR plan.

"Now that we are a proper force we will be stepping up the drive to create more demobilisation camps," UNAMSIL's Force Commander, Major General Jetley, told IRIN. "We hope that the demobilisation camps at Makeni and Magburaka (both northeast of Freetown) will be established within a month."

Jetley also told IRIN that while UNAMSIL faced logistical and equipment constraints in some areas, that would not hinder its efforts with regard to the DDR programme.

One of the UN Security Council's preoccupations in December, according to its then president, Jeremy Greenstock, was the need to avoid a possible "security vacuum" if ECOMOG's withdrawal was completed before an expanded UNAMSIL was fully deployed. However, Olukolade rejected this possibility. He told IRIN he believed the disarmament of ex-combatants would be "substantially accomplished" before ECOMOG left Sierra Leone. "The problems are exaggerated," he told IRIN. "We are highly optimistic that the programme will succeed."

DDR good for humanitarian aid

Successful completion of the DDR programme will have enormous benefits for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to populations in need.

The joint implementation committee of the Lome Peace Agreement said on 24 January that illegal roadblocks mounted by suspected ex-combatants had prevented aid agencies from gaining access to vulnerable populations. "The successful implementation of the DDR programme will help to remove these impediments and thereby ensure that relief is provided more efficiently and quickly to war-affected populations," a relief worker told IRIN.

Andrew Cox of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sierra Leone, gave an example of how successful disarmament and demobilisation benefit relief programmes.

"Lunsar used to be an RUF base and it is now no longer there," the HACU humanitarian affairs officer told IRIN. "We used to pass through more than ten RUF checkpoints on the road from Lunsar to Makeni. Now there are only two checkpoints left, closer to Makeni town. This facilitates the delivery of humanitarian assistance."


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