Sierra Leone

Soderberg: Press Release on Explanation of Vote Regarding Sierra Leone

U.S. Department of State
Nancy Soderberg, Ambassador
United States Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs
Press Release on Explanation of Vote Regarding Sierra Leone
United Nations Security Council

New York, New York, February 7, 2000

Mr. President,

Last October, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1270 to establish the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). That resolution authorized 6,000 military personnel to assist the Government of Sierra Leone in the implementation of the Lome peace agreement, including the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of ex-combatants. It was envisioned that UN troops and ECOMOG forces would each play a critical role in restoring peace and stability in Sierra Leone.

In December, the members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced that they no longer would be able to sustain ECOMOG forces in Sierra Leone. We regret that decision but acknowledge the tremendous sacrifices which the troops of Ghana, Guinea, Mall, and especially Nigeria, made in support of peace and democracy in Sierra Leone. With ECOMOG's decision to withdraw its forces, it is imperative to avoid a security gap. The peace process in Sierra Leone remains fragile and it is in all of our interest to help ensure its success.

Therefore, the United States supports the Secretary General's recommendation to expand the mandate of UNAMSIL to take on the function of the departing ECOMOG forces and we will vote for the resolution before us today. To ensure there is no gap in security, we support the "rehatting" of two battalions of Nigerian ECOMOG troops remaining in Sierra Leone. We welcome the Nigerian Government agreement with that proposal, and urge the UN and the Nigerian Government to work closely together to ensure an efficient and effective transition with adequate logistical support.

Mr. President,

The former rebels still hold sway in much of the countryside and there are deeply disturbing reports that they have been intimidating UNAMSIL soldiers and seizing their weapons, placing the UN troops in the bizarre situation of being disarmed by the rebels rather than the reverse. We are alarmed by these reports and strongly condemn all such actions. We call on RUF leader Foday Sankoh and the leaders of the ex-AFRC rebels to bring an immediate halt to these dangerous and reprehensible actions. They must permit the UN forces to carry out their mandate in Sierra Leone without confrontation or violence.

We also call upon UN officials to address this problem quickly and effectively. Let me remind the UN forces of the mandate of Security Council Resolution 1270 and the one we are voting today, which grants UN troops Chapter VII authority, in the discharge of their mandate, to take the necessary action to ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel.

While much progress has been made, the peace process in Sierra Leone is now at an especially sensitive stage. The cease-fire is generally holding, and over 13,000 combatants have entered demobilization sites, but the situation remains volatile. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration into society of the estimated 45,000 ex-combatants are progressing slowly; the process has taken much longer than all of us had hoped. Logistical problems, fear, and mistrust are among the many obstacles.

Mr. President,

Helping the Government and people of Sierra Leone consolidate peace after 8 years of civil war is a high priority for the U.S. Our principal interests are in helping to ensure a durable peace, building a climate of respect for human rights and the democratic process, holding those responsible for atrocities accountable under agreed mechanisms, and providing humanitarian relief to the population. A peaceful Sierra Leone is important also in contributing to stability in West Africa.

We urge the utmost efforts by all concerned to carry disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) through to a successful conclusion while conditions on the ground are still conducive to success. The UN must move quickly to ensure the success of this important program that will pave the way for the consolidation of the peace process. DDR is a crucial element in encouraging refugees and the internally displaced to return to their homes.

We are especially concerned with the plight of the internally displaced, who outnumber the 500,000 Sierra Leone refugees and suffer many of the same vulnerabilities, but are often out of reach of effective humanitarian access.

Roughly one-third of the population of Sierra Leone is internally displaced. We call on all parties to adhere to their commitments in the Lome Agreement to provide unfettered and safe access to all parts of the country for humanitarian workers. We must not allow these innocent victims of war to be neglected, and insist that all parties adhere to UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

Mr. President,

We want the Lome Agreement to succeed. The provisions for amnesty in the agreement represent a difficult choice taken by the signatories in order to end the fighting. We remain committed to justice and accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law. We are working to help the Government of Sierra Leone establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the Human Rights Commission that is called for by the agreement. We also favor an international fact-finding mission to support the work and proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation and Human Rights Commissions.

It is our hope these commissions can help bring healing and reconciliation on to the people of Sierra Leone. Many have suffered for too long. With the assistance of the international community we can help bring peace and reconciliation to Sierra Leone.