Washington, DC, February 16, 2000
Ms. McMillon: Hello, everyone, I'm Doris McMillon, and welcome to Worldnet's "Dialogue."
Today we have with us U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice, who will discuss prospects for peace in Sierra Leone, a country that was beset by a horrendous civil war. A peace agreement that was signed in Lome, Togo, on July 7th, 1999, brought a message of hope to the Sierra Leonean people that peace was in sight.
Disarmament has begun. On February 7th, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to expand the UNOMSIL peacekeeping operation from 6,000 to 11,100 troops. The international community has called on the leaders of the former rebel alliance to disarm their combatants, cooperate fully with the deployment of UNOMSIL, and work to implement the Lome peace agreement in its entirety.
It is my pleasure to introduce Dr. Susan Rice, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African affairs. Dr. Rice, welcome to Worldnet's "Dialogue."
Dr. Rice: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, everybody. It's a pleasure to have the opportunity to have an exchange with you today about the peace process in Sierra Leone.
This is an issue of the greatest concern to the United States. We have worked very hard in conjunction with regional leaders and the people of Sierra Leone to help bring about the peace agreement that was signed in Lome. We have provided ample logistical support to ECOMOG. We are the primary funder of the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone, and we are deeply committed to seeing this peace process succeed.
The people of Sierra Leone have suffered immeasurably. The atrocities committed against the people of Sierra Leone are unmatched anywhere in the world today, and it is for that reason and because of the potential of that great country that we are so committed to seeing the peace process succeed and the people of Sierra Leone finally have an end to their suffering.
While we welcome the signature by the rebel leadership of the Lome accord, and we welcome the modest progress that has been made in disarmament, not nearly enough disarmament has been accomplished, and the rebels in particular have an obligation to immediately fulfill their commitments to disarm, and disarm all of their combatants.
The regional leaders have invested a great deal in the success of this peace process, and their continued active involvement to ensure that the peace process succeeds is absolutely essential. The UN and the international community cannot do it alone. There must be the continued active involvement of the leaders of the region to bolster this process, to prevent weapons and troops from crossing into Sierra Leone, and to ensure that the commitments made in Lome are honored.
But I must say we are most concerned by the apparent unwillingness or inability of the rebel leadership to control their forces on the ground. The recent attacks on the United Nations are absolutely intolerable and reprehensible. We condemn them in the strongest possible terms. The United Nations has come to Sierra Leone to help the people of Sierra Leone, and the United States and the international community will not tolerate attacks on the United Nations, nor attacks on anybody who is committed to a successful peace there. The rebels must stop attacking the UN. They must honor their obligations under the Lome agreement. If they do not, the people of Sierra Leone will hold them accountable, and the international community will hold them accountable.
There is a bright future for the rebel leadership, and everybody in Sierra Leone, if they are committed to peace, to democratic processes, and to political competition. But if they choose to return to atrocities which are already resuming, if they choose to abrogate the peace agreement, then that's their choice, but it is a choice which will have serious consequences for the individuals who lead the rebels and for anybody who commits atrocities.
The amnesty that was granted in the Lome accord is a controversial provision, and there are many in Sierra Leone and in the international community who question the wisdom of that. The United States supported it because we believe the people of Sierra Leone first and foremost wanted peace, but not peace without justice. And that peace agreement, which was a great concession by the people of Sierra Leone who had suffered so much will only be valid if the rebels and all concerned uphold their obligation. If they do not, then the amnesty and the other provisions of that agreement are null and void, and the consequences are there to behold. We hope very much that all sides will honor their commitment and engage peacefully in bringing a lasting and secure future to the people of Sierra Leone.
Ms. McMillon: Thank you very much, Dr. Rice. And now we welcome our participants in Freetown, Lagos and Conakry. Freetown, you have the first question or comment. Please go ahead. Freetown, we will take your question or comment. Please go ahead. Well, while we are waiting for Freetown to respond, Dr. Rice, let's talk more about the amnesty agreement. What was probably the most difficult part of that agreement to accept in terms of what's happening in Sierra Leone?
Dr. Rice: Well, that really is first and foremost a question for the people of Sierra Leone to answer. They are the ones who have suffered massive atrocities at the hands of the combatants, in particular the rebel leadership. But the people of Sierra Leone have made plain that they want peace, and they realize that if there is to be peace that that must come through forgiveness and compromise.
When I was in Sierra Leone with Secretary Albright last October, we were struck by the depth of that desire for peace. And if peace means forgiving the past, or at least putting the past behind, then that's the choice for the people of Sierra Leone. But if there is no peace, if there is a return to violence and atrocities, then the good will and the patience of the people which is embodied in that Lome Accord will not be sustained. And nor will it be supported by the international community. There are many in the international community who felt that it was absolutely essential that there be a justice mechanism as a first step in the peace process. The people of Sierra Leone said, No, justice will come, but it must come in the wake of peace.
But all of this is contingent on the peace process being honored. The international community will not sit idly by and allow atrocities again to be committed with no accountability.
Ms. McMillon: Let's take a question from Lagos. Lagos, we'll take your question or comment. Please go ahead.
Q: My name is Moses --(inaudible)--I write for the Guardian of Nigeria in Lagos. The fact that Foday Sankoh, Paul Koroma and a host of other rebels are now rulers over these same people whom they made amputees, and the families of those they killed, don't you think a very precedent may have been set for other aspiring rebels who may feel that the best way to get power is by engaging in rebel activities?
Secondly, the signing of the peace agreement ordinarily made between the government and the rebels may be seen as an important development. But how on earth would those amputees and their wives who are now widows and the children who are now orphans will ever get justice? Thank you.
Dr. Rice: Well, I think first of all this is principally a question for those that negotiated the agreement, those that signed the agreement, and the people themselves. Let me say that there are many instances where peace agreements around the world have contemplated rebel movement, converting themselves into political parties and competing peacefully for power. That was the premise in places as far away as Mozambique, and ultimately in Namibia and South Africa. And those are examples where that process has succeeded. And in some of those cases there have been interim transitional governments that have accorded some role for the rebels, as was the case in the Lome Accord. The rebels are not to be running the country, as you put it, under the Lome agreement. They are to have a role in a transitional government that retains the democratically elected president and many of his ministers. If Lome is honored, there will be a peaceful political competition for a new Government of Sierra Leone, and that will be a democratic government. That will only be possible if all faithfully honor their commitment.
As for the victims of atrocities, nobody and nothing can bring back to them their lives, their peace of mind, their limbs or anything else. That is a hard, hard tragedy of amazing proportions.
What we can do as the region, as the international community, is to help bring them lasting peace, help them be rehabilitated, provide support and humanitarian and development assistance for Sierra Leone, as the United States has. We provided more than $300 million since 1990 in humanitarian assistance to Sierra Leone, including $55 million already this fiscal year. We will do our part, but the signatories to the Lome agreement, in particular the rebels, must do their part.
Ms. McMillon: Thank you, Lagos, for your question.
We welcome Conakry to ask a question or make a comment. Please go ahead. Conakry, we will be glad to take your question or comment. All right, we'll return to Lagos. Lagos, please go ahead again.
Q: My name is--(inaudible)--of the Comet newspaper of Lagos. Dr. Rice, it's really very nice to have this opportunity to talk with you. My questions are two-pronged, dimensioned. My colleague from the Guardian said war lordism is fast becoming a career in the West African sub-region. So there is a probable linkage with the effect of war on children, what the major trend in children participating in war in West Africa. So what is whole agreement poised in doing, trying to do, to make sure that the effect of the armed conflict in the sub-region on them is minimal? One is looking at it from this perspective, because we are contemplating 10 years from now that if something is not done these same children when--(inaudible)--group might even take up arms to let us do what this or that group did. So we are saying out of this whole agreement the missionaries and the teams put in place to ensure that the whole effort toward this so far--I'm talking about child soldiers, how they could be disarmed and integrated into the society. Thank you.
Dr. Rice: Well, thank you very much for that question. Your concern about child soldiers is one that I share most profoundly as does the entire U.S. Government. This is a horrible tragedy endemic not only to Sierra Leone and West Africa, but many parts of Africa and the rest of the world. Children have been abused, children have been abducted, children have been oppressed into service. And as you point out, the psychological and physical scars of that combat will be enduring. And it's an issue that troubles me deeply, particularly as a mother.
But let me say that in answer to your question the best prospect for helping those child soldiers, giving them a viable future and preventing them from coming back 10 years later with a gun in their hands, is achieving a lasting peace in Sierra Leone. Only if there is a peace and disarmament is part of that peace process, will these children give up their weapons and have the opportunity for job training, for education, for psychological counseling, and for all of the full support that the international community has already promised to Sierra Leone and is willing and able to provide in the future.
Those children have a chance. They have an opportunity to live in peace and security and grow up and be mothers and fathers themselves. But that's only possible if Sierra Leone is able to put conflict behind them, move to disarmament and full implementation of the Lome Accords, which is why we are so committed to seeing this peace agreement succeed. It is why we have invested massive quantities of money in support of the region's extraordinary and commendable efforts through ECOMOG. And now we are the largest funder of the UN mission there of 11,000 troops. It's the largest UN mission in the world.
Ms. McMillon: Lagos, we'll take another question. Please go ahead.
Q: My name is--(inaudible). My question is this: Don't you think that different--(inaudible)--Sierra Leone commissions of inquiry that there will--it will bring about a temporary peace in the country? I think there is need to be fully involved; that is, as the conflict passes to be involved in the resolution of the conflict that you can bring about if not exactly something near to a winning transformation of the economy? Thank you.
Dr. Rice: What exactly are you suggesting or proposing?
Q: I am suggesting that the conflicting parties should be involved--let them be part of the resolution of their own conflict so that it will now bring an end to the conflict than saying let it be this way and let it be this way, which will end up bringing about one party winning while the other party loses?
Dr. Rice: Well, the conflicting parties are participating, in principle anyway, in the newly restructured government. They are forming political parties. They are able to be part of building the future for Sierra Leone. We agree completely that they must be involved. And, most importantly, the people of Sierra Leone and civil society must be involved in shaping the future of your country.
Ms. McMillon: Thank you, Lagos. Let's welcome Freetown again. Freetown, please go ahead.
Q: (Off mike)--from the Democratic Newspaper of Freetown. My own question is how--why didn't the United States send their troops to join the--(inaudible)--serving here in Freetown, firstly? And also, this morning I had the president of the U.S.--the national summit currently going on in the United States there on Africa say that, you know, the policy toward Africa has been treated bad in the last millennium or century, call it that. But what are you doing now to change that policy vis-a-vis trying to realize the need for rapid grappling with the welfare of the people? Because if you say you spend $290 million, you know, if it comes PA and stuff like that, and cars, helicopters, it does not directly impact on the people. And if we see combatants benefiting, selling things, people will naturally be--don't you think people will naturally think that, just as somebody was saying earlier, you have to involve in conflict to gain some amount of benefit?
Dr. Rice: Let me begin by answer the first part of your question. The United States was never asked by the United Nations to participate in UNOMSIL, but we have committed to funding 25% of that operation, which is the largest contribution that any country in the world will make. As you know, we have been actively involved in support of peacekeeping in Sierra Leone by being the principal funder of the logistics support contract for ECOMOG, without which ECOMOG could not have done its work in Sierra Leone.
I do want to be clear that the $300 million I referred to was humanitarian assistance--assistance for food and for medicines and for the people of Sierra Leone. What we have provided to PANE, the logistics support contract, is additional and separate, and amounts to American support for ECOMOG in Liberia and Sierra Leone of an additional more than $110 million over the last several years. So our humanitarian assistance is well over and above that and quite separate.
With respect to the United States' overall policy toward Africa, under President Clinton's leadership we have tried to change dramatically the way the United States relates to Africa and the way the United States conceives of its interests in Africa. We are past the Cold War period of competition, of rivalry, of viewing Africa as the superpower playground. We seek and we are building genuine partnerships in Africa based on our mutual interests and mutual respect. And we have made important progress in that regard in changing and deepening and strengthening our economic relationships with Africa, recognizing that we have shared interests in working against common transnational security threats. We are providing increased development assistance over the last several years. We are trying to do more with respect to trade and investment. We continue to be the largest provider of humanitarian assistance of any individual in Africa.
And at the same time we are doing our utmost to prevent and resolve conflicts in Africa, which is why we have tried to do all that we can diplomatically to support the negotiation of a viable peace in Sierra Leone through the efforts of many American diplomats, including Ambassador Melrose; my deputy Ambassador Howard Jeter; the Secretary of State herself, Madeleine Albright; the president's special envoy, Jesse Jackson; and many others. And at the same time we are committed to backing up those agreements where they can be achieved with real support from the international community to help implement those agreements, which is why we have committed, despite the size and despite the cost, to move forward in support of an enlarged UNOMSIL, which will soon achieve its mandated strength of more than 1,100 troops.
Ms. McMillon: Freetown, we will continue with you. Please go for another question.
Q: I have two questions here. Firstly, one of them is quite general. We are talking about the resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone, and you are also aware of the fact that Sierra Leone is the victim of a war that spilled over into Sierra Leone because of the porous nature of our boundaries. Again, what is very clear is that over the years civilian politicians have demonstrated excessive dictatorship that led to the development of rebel movements to overthrow the government. What mechanisms are you people going to put in place to ensure that civilian politicians are told that high-handed governance can lead to the destabilization of the state? That is my first question.
The second question is: You do realize that the blueprint for peace in Sierra Leone is the Lome peace accords, which give amnesty to all those people who participated in--(inaudible)--activities, including their collaborators--(inaudible)--civil servant in Sierra Leone who was working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and who later worked as protocol officer for Johnny Paul Koroma, is incarcerated in America, purportedly as a collaborator of the RUF (inaudible)--when in fact Johnny Paul is here as chairman of the CCP. I cannot understand this kind of problem.
Dr. Rice: Let me address your first question. The issue of amnesty, the issue of lasting peace, is one that I have discussed at some length, I am happy to come back to.
The legal case that you refer to of the protocol officer of the RUF is one that is being dealt with in our judicial system. I will not comment on it in substance, except to say that that individual was arrested (Editors: arrest here does not mean a law enforcement/criminal arrest, but refers to an immigration detention) pursuant to United States law implementing the UN sanctions regime on the RUF. And we very much are committed to enforcing sanctions where they are in place.
Our broader hope, however, is that as peace takes hold in Sierra Leone, if there is in fact genuine commitment by the parties to the peace agreement that was signed in Lome, then we will be past a period of time when any of citizens of Sierra Leone will be subject to international or domestic visa sanctions or anything of the sort. On the contrary, of course, if peace does not take hold, if there isn't an opportunity for the people of Sierra Leone finally to have a future in safety and security and democracy, then our own sanctions and visa restrictions and those of the rest of the international community I would expect would not only be revived but intensified.
Your comments about civilian leadership and the fact that at times civilian leadership acts in ways that is not conducive to the establishment of a democratic or the maintenance of a democratic environment is an important one, and it is one of importance not just to Sierra Leone but to the broader region. It is first and foremost the obligation of the people of any given country--Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, to demand accountability and to demand that their leadership govern transparently and in the interests of the people. The United States, I believe, is the strongest proponent anywhere in the world of democracy, of respect for human rights, and we have insisted that governments around the world must govern in a transparent, accountable fashion. and we have also, however, said that where governments fail, civilian or otherwise, to be accountable, to be transparent, that in no way justifies the spawning of rebel movements, or as we have seen more recently in neighboring Cote D'Ivoire, military coups. We condemn those coups wherever they occur in the strongly possible fashion. We were deeply troubled by the coup that toppled President Kabbah in Sierra Leone, just as we were troubled by the coup most recently in Cote D'Ivoire. The United States has zero tolerance for coups. We cut off our assistance. We have made clear in the international financial institutions of zero tolerance.
Our challenge and your challenge as the people of these countries to work together to make existing governments democratic, transparent and accountable. That is what we do in our institution-building programs, in our democracy-building program, and in our diplomatic interactions with governments all over the West African sub-region and around the world. But they also need to hear it and feel it through peaceful democratic means from their own people.
Ms. McMillon: Thank you, Freetown. As you know, Dr. Rice, we have been having a little trouble connecting to Conakry. They have in fact faxed some questions to us, and so I would like to ask you the questions on their behalf. Mr. Sharif Baldet (ph), who is a war correspondent with the Globe, has asked this question: Has the U.S.A. taken into account the presence on the ground of the soldiers faithful to Johnny Paul Koroma?
Dr. Rice: Yes, of course we have taken that into consideration. We recognize that Mr. Sankoh signed the Lome Accord on behalf of all of the rebels, but Mr. Koroma and his forces are important parts of a future and a peace for Sierra Leone, which is why he has taken up--this is Mr. Koroma--taken up a role in the government, and why we view him and his forces as being accountable for successful implementation of Lome, just as we hold Mr. Sankoh and the RUF accountable for their forces.
This peace, if it is to succeed, must have the support of all of the armed groups in Sierra Leone. When we were in Sierra Leone with Secretary Albright last October, both Mr. Koroma and Mr. Sankoh confirmed their commitment to Lome. We want to see that commitment actualized on the ground. Important progress has been made, some statesman-like actions and statements have been made. But, equally, disarmament has been slow, there have been attacks on the U.N., there have been atrocities committed. And these are not the actions of people who are clearly and unequivocally committed to a peace agreement. We want to see that stated commitment translated into sustained statesmanship, disarmament, and full adherence to the Lome Accords.
Ms. McMillon: George Leonard Sanyo (ph), also a journalist for the Globe, asks: What support may the United States give to Sankoh, who is now telling the rebels to drop the arms and be ready for the political fight? He would like to know what your opinion is on that.
Dr. Rice: Well, the United States, as I said many times, has been very supportive of the Lome Accords. We are helping with the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration process. We are helping through the United Nations. We are providing tens of millions of dollars of humanitarian assistance. We have pledged support to the new institutions of government and to civil society. And among the institutions of government that we are prepared to assist is of course the Commission on Resources which Mr. Sankoh heads.
But our interest is in seeing Mr. Sankoh and the RUF and all concerned actors in Sierra Leone compete politically and democratically for power. And if they do, and as we hope they will, and as they said they would, then the United States, as we do in many parts of Africa, stands ready to provide support for democracy building, for political institution building, support that would be beneficial to all those who are committed to peaceful political competition, including Mr. Sankoh's organization.
Ms. McMillon: Thank you, Dr. Rice. Let's return now to Freetown for more questions. Please go ahead, Freetown.
Q: My name is Calvin Lewis (ph). I'm with--(inaudible)--local newspaper. My question is the U.S., along with other countries, passed the UN resolutions to create a UN peacekeeping force for Sierra Leone, and also now to increase it. But the U.S. has also been seeing that the support regional and sub-regional initiatives in conflict resolution. May I ask why was it necessary for the U.S. to support the creation of a new UN peacekeeping force rather than giving the same amount of money and logistics to ECOMOG to finish the job they started?
Dr. Rice: Thank you very much. That's a very important question, and the answer is a complicated one.
First of all, let me recall that the United States has been the leading supporter and financier, external financier, of ECOMOG, first in Liberia and more recently in Sierra Leone. As I said, the United States has provided more than $110 million worth of support and logistical assistance to ECOMOG over the course of the past decade. But very few donors other than the United States, and some support from the Dutch and the British, have made such large or sustained contributions to ECOMOG over the course of the last decade, and as a consequence ECOMOG did not have the wherewithal to sustain indefinitely its already extraordinary commitments in Liberia and later in Sierra Leone. And for very understandable reasons ECOMOG felt that it could not continue without an assured funding stream which the system of assessed payments for UN peacekeeping provides.
The UN is not in a position to tax its member states to pay for peacekeeping operations anywhere in the world that aren't organized and commanded by the United Nations. When the United Nations is able to organize and deploy a UN mission, it is then able to ask all of the members of the United Nations--every country on the globe--to pay its share of an assessed peacekeeping operation. It's a form of international burden-sharing which has enabled the United Nations to play a constructive role elsewhere in the world. If the rest of the countries in the world were willing voluntarily to support ECOMOG in the way that they are required to fund the UN by virtue of their membership when there is a peacekeeping operation voted, then of course ECOMOG might have had the resources necessary to sustain its commitment. As it was, the United States was far and away the largest donor. And the way our own budget system works, which is really now getting into arcane details, we have much more flexibility and more funds appropriated from our own Congress to pay for UN peacekeeping operations than we do to fund regional peacekeeping operations in Africa or anywhere else in the world. So we can be much more supportive financially and legally of UN operations than we are able to be, unfortunately, of regional operations, despite all of the good will we have and had towards ECOMOG, which we think has done a remarkable job in Sierra Leone.
Ms. McMillon: Thank you, Freetown, for your questions. Let's return to Lagos. Lagos, we'll take your questions.
Q: My name is--(inaudible)--I am senior editor with the News Agency of Nigeria. Dr. Rice, I--(inaudible)--over a long period. But specifically, won't you want to ask--we want to say most times that the United States takes much more interest in other areas other than Africa. Let me not belabor you with the point of view of getting involved in Kosovo and those other areas. On the bilateral angle, if you wanted to look at it from that side, U.S. and Sierra Leone, you say there's deep interests. But so far the militarization and disarmament hasn't started, and that's the crucial aspect of getting peace. And it looks like so much foot-dragging. And in the countryside--(inaudible)--and with the meager resources that you have--(inaudible)--do so much. So I was wondering now what the United States--the potentials and--(inaudible)--don't you think the United States could do more or should be doing more? Thank you.
Dr. Rice: Well, the United States is
doing much more in Africa in recent years than had been the case in the past, and that's because we recognize that we have got important interests--economic, security, political and humanitarian--in Africa, and our resources are now following those interests.
But let me go back to the crucial point you made. You pointed out, absolutely correctly, that the key step that needs to be accomplished in Sierra Leone is disarmament and demobilization. And there, whether it's ECOMOG, the United States, the United Nations, or anybody else from the outside, the only way that disarmament is going to be accomplished effectively and in a lasting fashion is if the rebel leadership honor their commitments to disarm their soldiers. That's what they said they would do in Lome. That is the deal they cut which allowed them to participate in the government, to have a domestic amnesty. And they need to honor that deal. Nobody can go around and collect every last weapon in Sierra Leone, or any other place in the world.
There has to be the political will to end this conflict. And where that will exists, then backed up by the strength and the resources of the international community. That is the primary message that I have today, that this is the responsibility of the signatories to Lome. Nigeria and many of the countries in the region invested great life, treasure, money and then diplomatic energy in Sierra Leone to try to bring about a lasting peace, and that is a commitment that the United States applauds, and the international community ought to be grateful for.
But at the end of the day, that investment, and that of all of us, will not be enough if there isn't the political will on the part of the signatories to Lome to honor their commitments. The rebels need to disarm. There needs to be a need national army. And if those key steps are not taken, then the people of Sierra Leone and the international community will hold the leadership responsible.
Ms. McMillon: We'll return now to Lagos. Lagos, please go ahead with your questions.
Q: Actually I said my question was two-pronged. I wanted to know--I watched with satisfaction the arrangements or the United States policy towards the ECOMOG peacekeeping operation in Liberia vis-a-vis Nigeria during the Abacha regime, sort of limited engagement where the United States had to defer to Nigeria in matters concerning the peacekeeping operation, and at the same time we've seen--(inaudible)--commitment to the democratization process. And now for the initiative, the ACRI initiative, the crisis response force of the United States -- at that time Nigeria had a position, or rather the United States government, because of the political situation in the country, was opposed to Nigeria's participation. And if I may--I am quite correct, the political temper, the public opinion now in the country is that of sustaining our own democracy, the need to--(inaudible)--investment and others -- even Nigerians who just are citizens of this country are not really too interested in matters that have to do with sending out our boys to somewhere for peacekeeping, I know that. So I wanted to see how would this marriage of convenience between the United States Government and the present administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, to integrate the Nigerian forces within the ACRI system where maybe the U.S. might not really be, it is no longer interested in using nationals or troops in crises in Africa, but encourage African governments and Africans--(inaudible)--peacekeeping activities. Thank you.
Dr. Rice: I--let me try your first prong of your question, first to deal with Liberia, and then try to come back to the African Crisis Response Initiative. I am not sure on the second question that I fully understand precisely what you are asking me, but I will try to address the subject.
On the question of Liberia, as you know the United States has a long and important historical relationship with Liberia, and a deep interest in seeing the people of that country, who also have suffered greatly and very long, the chance for them to live in peace. ECOMOG played a very important role in Liberia, and we sought to be supportive to the extent we could of that role. But we did so in a very discreet and precise fashion, which I think is important to describe.
We had fundamental concerns about the military regime of General Abacha. We condemned it. We were one of the international community's harshest critics of the anti-democratic repressive policies of General Abacha. We isolated the government. We were very outspoken. And we were unable to cooperate in providing any kind of direct assistance to the Government of Nigeria so long as General Abacha was governing the country.
We had to balance that policy, which we were wholly committed to, to the need to be supportive in some fashion of a peace process in Liberia. And the way we did it was to provide contract logistical support to ECOMOG through an American contractor called PANE. We didn't give any direct dollars or assistance to the military of Nigeria under General Abacha, even as we tried to be supportive of the peace process in Liberia.
Now, when it comes to the African Crisis Response Initiative, this is an initiative that President Clinton launched back in 1996--not to remove the United States from playing a constructive role in peacekeeping or humanitarian operations in Africa; quite the contrary, it was to begin to try to build and sustain a capacity throughout Africa for peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, just as we have invested in building that same type of capacity in Eastern Europe, in Latin America, in other parts of the world.
Africa has more than its share of conflicts and crises. It has a number of countries, Nigeria being in many ways foremost among them, that have been committed to trying to forge peaceful solutions and keep the peace in Africa's conflict zones. But I think as Nigeria would be the first to acknowledge, that is a burden that needs to be borne more broadly in Africa. There needs to be trained, capable units throughout the continent that have common communications equipment, common doctrine, common standards, and have come together sufficiently, exercised and trained, so that if and when there is a crisis and they are called, they can deploy quickly together to make a meaningful difference. That's the theory behind the African Crisis Response Initiative. It is well underway. Training has been conducted in more than seven countries, about to go on to an eighth. We've done follow-on training. More than 5,000 troops have been trained on the African Crisis Response Initiative, and it's a very important element of our engagement with Africa. We would be delighted if Nigeria found it appropriate and desirable to participate in the African Crisis Response Initiative, but that's a decision for the people and leadership of Nigeria--it's their choice.
Ms. McMillon: Thank you, Lagos. We are going to return to Conakry for a question. Please go ahead.
Q: Good morning, thank you very much. My name is--(inaudible)--I am a journalist at the Guinean Radio and Television Network. There are thousands--several thousands refugees who come to Guinea, and some continue to pour into our country. Will the United States and the international community develop a policy or some kind of assistance mechanism to help Guinea and to help the people whose lives have been perturbed by this large influx?
I have a colleague who also has a question.
Q: I am the colleague, Ms. Rice, good evening. I just have a comment. You came here with Mrs. Albright to our country. We thought Mrs. Albright would come to Conakry, but her visit was very quick--it was very, very brief, and she didn't have a chance to look at the problem of refugees. We have heard you say that peace is important, but justice is important too. But what's happened here--what has happened in Sierra Leone has been terrible for people, and many international crimes have been committed against children. Will the United States insist on peace first, but justice later, or does justice not come into this equation at all? Thank you.
Dr. Rice: Thank you. Let me first say that the United States is profoundly aware of the tremendous burdens that the people of Guinea have borne and are bearing with more than 500,000 refugees on its soil. The generosity and the tolerance of the people and the government of Guinea for those refugees is commendable. It is consistent with international law, and we and the rest of the international community are grateful for it.
The United States is one of the leading donors through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide support to the refugees in Guinea, as well as to help defray the burden that they impose on the rest of the Guinean population. Our assistance has been sustained over many years, and it will continue, obviously with the objective of enabling those refugees to return to their homes and their home countries as quickly as possible, which is one of the many reasons why we are so concerned that the Lome Accords succeed, and committed to doing all we can to support its implementation. If there is peace, lasting peace and stability in Sierra Leone, then of course the refugees in Guinea and elsewhere can return safely to their homes.
But your point proves that it's the neighboring states and the sub-region apart from the people of Sierra Leone who have the greatest stake in this peace process succeeding. And I would urge that the leadership of the region recognize that their interests will not be served unless this agreement is fully implemented. It's one thing to negotiate the agreement, it's one thing to provide meaningful support to ECOMOG. But the challenge continues, and the active involvement of the regional leaders is essential to prevent arms from flowing across the borders into Sierra Leone, from preventing soldiers from crossing into Sierra Leone, as we continue to be concerned it is happening on the Liberian side. The regional leaders have a responsibility here too, and we will very much pay close attention to whether they uphold their obligations under the Lome agreement.
Ms. McMillon: Thank you so much. And with that, we are out of time. Once again, thanks to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Susan Rice. Thank you for joining us, as well as our participants in Freetown, Lagos and Conakry. From Washington, I am Doris McMillon, and this has been Worldnet "Dialogue."