UNAMSIL Press Briefing, 21 Dec 2001

Report
from UN Mission in Sierra Leone
Published on 21 Dec 2001
(Near Verbatim)
MAJOR-GENERAL MARTIN AGWAI, UNAMSIL ACTING FORCE COMMANDER
MS. MARGARET NOVICKI - UNAMSIL SPOKESMAN

SECRETARY-GENERAL PLEDGES UN SUPPORT TO WEST AFRICA

Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday pledged that the UN would continue to work actively with West African countries in numerous areas, particularly in peace and security and socio-economic development.

In a message to the Heads of State and Government gathered in Dakar for the 25 th summit meeting of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mr. Annan said that as further proof of his commitment to work with ECOWAS and other regional organizations he had decided to open a UN Office for West Africa to support the region's quest for sustainable peace and development. Yesterday, the Security Council welcomed the initiative as an important step to harmonize UN efforts in the subregion.

"The United Nations will continue to be a close partner of ECOWAS in sustaining this momentum," the Secretary-General said, noting that future challenges included the stabilization of the situation in Sierra Leone and the restoration of security and confidence in the Mano River Basin countries.

"The United Nations is also committed to working with ECOWAS leaders to implement the New Partnership for the Development of Africa, and to mobilize international support for this vital endeavour," he added.

Mr. Annan's message was delivered on his behalf by UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahima Fall.

SECURITY COUNCIL EXTENDS DIAMOND BAN

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, 20 December, approved an 11-month extension of its ban on imports of rough diamonds from Sierra Leone that aims to reduce the role played by the illicit trade in diamonds in fuelling the conflict in the country.

Both the original ban imposed in July 2000, and its current extension, fall under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which makes them legally binding on all Member States. The ban will be reviewed after six months, and whether or not it is lifted will depend on the general situation in Sierra Leone, including the extent of the Government's authority over the diamond-producing areas.

By its unanimous action, the Council also welcomed ongoing efforts by the diamond industry and others to break the link between trade in illicit diamonds and armed conflict, and expressed its support for the export diamond certification regime set up by neighbouring Guinea, and for efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to develop a region-wide certification regime.

The ban's establishment followed reports that diamonds from Sierra Leone were presented on international markets as deriving from neighbouring countries, and that funds from their sale were used to finance the activities of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which controlled many of the diamond-rich areas.

While noting that there had been significant progress in the Sierra Leone peace process recently, and the Government, with the support of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), had taken steps to extend its authority over those areas, the Council said today that this authority was not yet fully effective.

Rough diamonds whose origin is certified by the Government of Sierra Leone are exempt from the ban.

SECURITY COUNCIL WELCOMES UN WEST AFRICA OFFICE

The UN Security Council has welcomed the establishment of a new Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, saying the envoy would help to better harmonize UN efforts in the region.

In a presidential statement read out during an open meeting on Wednesday, 19 December, the Council said the Dakar-based Office would also ensure the development of a fruitful partnership with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), other subregional organizations and international as well as national players, including civil society.

"The Security Council emphasizes that greater subregional integration must remain a key goal for the United Nations system in the search for lasting solutions to the conflicts in West Africa and to the human suffering to which these give rise," said the statement by the Council President, Ambassador Moctar Ouane of Mali. He stressed the need to further strengthen the capacities of ECOWAS towards this end, especially its ability to stem the illicit flow of small arms and the establishment of militia. In that connection, the Council welcomed the three-year extension of the Moratorium on the Importation, Exportation and Manufacture of Small Arms and Light Weapons in West Africa and appealed for international financial support for the effort.

The Council also underscored the importance of taking steps to develop cooperation and coordination among the intergovernmental bodies and entities of the UN, which could influence the situation in West Africa.

Concerning the Mano River Union countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - the Council emphasized the "need to see to the effective implementation" of confidence building measures among them. The three were also strongly encouraged to "do their utmost" to hold a summit meeting of their heads of State.

With specific reference to Sierra Leone, the Council welcomed progress in the country's peace process and appealed to the international community for "substantial financial assistance for the programme for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants and other peace-consolidating activities" in the country.

Despite some improvements, the situation in West Africa remains volatile, requiring an integrated international response, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council on Tuesday, at the outset of its extensive debate on the sub-region.

Ibrahima Fall, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, noted that the peace process in Sierra Leone had continued to progress, while the Government of Côte d'Ivoire had organized a national reconciliation dialogue. Guinea's Government had decided not to force through legislative elections that might have led to an internal crisis, and well-contested but largely peaceful democratic transitions had occurred in Ghana and the Gambia.

At the same time, he warned that the overall political situation in West Africa remained volatile. Insecurity and instability could spread particularly in the Mano River Union countries - Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In addition, the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons was of great concern, Mr. Fall told the meeting.

The UN, he noted, had renewed its commitment to help revive the Mano River Union. A UN working group was preparing to convene a meeting on developing a pragmatic and coordinated UN response to requests submitted by the three Union members. Mr. Fall emphasized the importance of sustaining momentum in this effort.

The Assistant Secretary-General also said the Sierra Leone peace process was crucial in bringing peace to the sub-region. He noted that fighting in neighbouring Liberia could have dangerous spill-over effects in Sierra Leone, reinforcing the need for an integrated approach in responding to the sub-region's crisis.

UNAMSIL DEPLOYMENT LEADS TO SECURE ENVIRONMENT, SAYS SG REPORT

The full deployment of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) has led to a secure environment, with increased freedom of movement, gradual return of refugees and a resurgence of economic activity in the provinces, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a just-released report.

At the same time, some important steps towards sustainable peace and stability are lagging behind, particularly the extension of the Government's authority throughout the country, the reintegration of disarmed combatants, as well as the return and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons, the Secretary-General observes in his latest report to the Security Council on the activities of UNAMSIL.

The report also details UN plans to support Sierra Leone's elections, which are to culminate in a vote on the President and Parliament on 14 May 2002. UNAMSIL intends to establish one electoral office in each of the country's five electoral regions, and UN troops will be tasked to patrol more widely to promote confidence during the polling period.

Mr. Annan warns that while the forthcoming elections in Sierra Leone are another chance to consolidate the peace process, the months leading up to the vote could be filled with risks that might create tensions if the electoral process is not transparent and credible. "The prevailing situation therefore calls for continued vigilance, as well as the concerted efforts of all concerned, to ensure that the elections are a success," he writes.

UNAMSIL PEACEKEEPERS BRING KONO SKIRMISHES UNDER CONTROL

Several persons were reported injured during skirmishes that took place in Koidu, Kono District, between rival diamond miners. The clashes began on 19 December when an unidentified group of people gathered to protest mining activities within the town. The group that was involved in mining at the time responded with stone throwing, which resulted in injuries.

UNAMSIL peacekeepers of the Pakistani Contingent deployed troops to the scene and created a buffer zone between the two groups, bringing the situation under control. The injured are receiving medical care from UNAMSIL's Sector 5 personnel.

The incident is being investigated.

UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR VISITS UNAMSIL DEPLOYMENTS IN KOIDU AND KENEMA

The United States Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Mr. Peter Chaveas, was welcomed on a visit on 18 December to the eastern towns of Kenema and Koidu by the Commander of UNAMSIL's Sector 5, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Brig.-Gen. Pasha briefed the Ambassador and his delegation on the improved security situation in the Pakistani Contingent's area of responsibility, which is from Koidu to Kailahun in the east, on the Sierra Leonean border with Guinea and Liberia.

The Sector 5 Commander gave a brief on the excellent working relationship between the battalions and non-governmental organizations rendering humanitarian assistance to the community. He also expressed optimism regarding the complete disarmament of combatants in the area by 31 December.

Ambassador Chaveas was also informed that the Pakistani Contingent was fully deployed in readiness for the upcoming general elections. Brig. Gen. Pasha noted, however, that there was a great need to repair the poor roads in the area for the battalions to effectively carry out their peacekeeping duties.

In Kenema, Ambassador Chaveas and his delegation were received by the Commander of Sector 3 and Commanding Officer of Ghana Battalion 4 (GHANBATT 4), Brig.-Gen. Samuel Odotei. Ambassador Chaveas was briefed by Brig.-Gen. Odotei on the situation there and given a tour of the area.

Brig.-Gen. Odotei expressed gratitude to Ambassador Chaveas for the training GHANBATT 4 had received from the United States prior to joining UNAMSIL, which had helped facilitate their operations in Kenema.

NIGERIAN MILITARY DELEGATION VISITS UNAMSIL DEPUTY SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE

The Nigerian Air Force Director of Operations, Air Commodore John Okosun, on 19 December paid a courtesy call on the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Mr. Behrooz Sadry, at United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) Headquarters.

Welcoming the Air Commodore and his delegation, Mr. Sadry commended the role of Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) efforts to bring sustainable peace to Sierra Leone. He also highlighted the contributions of the Nigerian contingent in UNAMSIL, which he described as tremendous. Mr. Sadry said he was extremely proud of the officers and men and women of the Nigerian contingent for their professionalism, efficiency, and discipline as UNAMSIL peacekeepers.

On progress in the peace process, the Mr. Sadry informed Commodore Okosun that disarmament of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and the Civil Defence Force (CDF) has been completed in 10 districts, with only two districts remaining, and expressed hope that it would be completed by the end of this year.

In response, Commodore Okosun expressed gratitude to the DSRSG for the level of cooperation and understanding demonstrated to his troops under UNAMSIL. He said his visit was aimed at observing how the Nigerian troops were managing, and to know their problems in order to devise solutions.

Commodore Okosun was accompanied by Col. E.K. Ekwale, Commander G.O.T. Adebayo, and Maj. Y.A.K. Ishaku, all from Nigerian Defence Headquarters, Abuja.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Major-General Martin Luther Agawi, UNAMSIL Acting Force Commander: You all are aware that there were some problems in the Kono District, particularly Koidu Township. To the best of my knowledge, what we found on the ground there was that there had been an agreement between the Paramount Chief, the RUF leadership, the CDF leadership, the Police and UNAMSIL. The parties, meeting together, had reached an agreement after meeting for three consecutive days. The major theme agreed upon was mining -- that all mining within Koidu Township should stop. Based on that agreement, a grace period of 10 days was given, after which all mining within Koidu Township must stop and all parties accepted the agreement.

Secondly, on the housing issue, an agreement was reached between those people who have been occupying other people's houses before disarmament. On the market issue, some call it dues, some call it custom duty - that is depending on who you are talking with--an agreement was reached that in a week one side will collect for four days and another side would collect for three days. However, when the Town Council comes in and takes complete control, they will produce the receipts and the Council will take control of the running of the market and all parties accepted this agreement.

Finally, on the issue of Chiefs, whether you refer to them as caretaker Chiefs, or Chiefs, it was agreed that the legitimate Paramount Chiefs and the people would resolve the issue because they are all one family. These were the agreements reached.

However, there now came a problem - one which actually sparked the whole trouble on the 19th of December. There was a problem with the interpretation of the agreements, especially the most sensitive one on mining.

A group stated the mining should stop at midnight on the 19 December. Another group said the 10 days expired on 20 December. Another said 23 December. So these were the issues that brought on the argument, and one group decided to protest at the police station. The group was about 500, and after they went to the police station, the police intervened and discussed with them and told them to keep the peace and everyone should disperse home. The group started dispersing which included women and youth.

On their way home, one group of about 150 people went through an area where RUF ex-combatants were mining. There was then a misunderstanding between them, which led to stone throwing. Depending on whom you talk to, the CDF said when the group was passing, the RUF began to stone them. The RUF stated that the group started booing at them and throwing stones and they retaliated. One thing is clear: the passing of this group created the friction which quickly led to stone throwing and a physical fight, and finally the whole thing escalated and got out of hand.

In a nutshell, this is what happened on 19 December and this continued until the next day (yesterday, 20 December). By the time I arrived with our team in Koidu, I found that our troops of Sector 5 in Koidu had everything under control. They were able to create a buffer between the RUF supporters and the CDF supporters. I was able talk with the two leaders of the groups separately. I then asked them what is the way forward. Interestingly enough, the two sides agreed that the way forward is through dialogue. They want their respective leaderships to meet with them and to hold another joint meeting of CDF ex-combatants, RUF ex-combatants, the RUF leadership, the CDF leadership, the Paramount Chiefs, UNAMSIL, and the Police. All parties should sit together and find a way of resolving this issue and find a long-term solution to this problem.

That is what has happened and that is where we are. Hopefully, within the next 24 hours or so, I will go back to Koidu, and we will see how we can keep this momentum going so that no one will resort to violence any longer.

John Bona (The New Storm): Do you have any knowledge if it was just stones thrown about or weapons (guns) used?

Major-General Agwai: It depends on what you define as weapons. I was in Koidu personally for over four hours yesterday. I did not see anyone that is not authorized carrying firearms. Only our troops and the police that are there carry firearms. However, I have a report that firearms were used. Let me add that all those who were killed or injured were not from firearms, they were from clubs, knives, machetes, axes. All the deaths had deep-cut injuries from knives - not gunshots. While driving through Koidu and its environs yesterday, I personally saw that both sides were armed with all kinds of weapons--sticks, clubs, axes, machetes, knives and stones--which are easy to find in Kono. I have not discarded the fact that there are no arms in Kono, but no death was caused by gunshots.

John Mansaray (Salone Times): Which of the groups were actually passing? The CDF or RUF?

Major-General Agwai: From reports I have available, it was a group of CDF and locals, which made up the group, including women, that went to the police station to protest. It was this group made up of youth, CDF and women that were heading back and passed through that place. And if you know the way a mob or crowd behaves, all you need is one little thing, which will start trouble - which definitely was what happened. The fact remains that the passing of this group brought the friction that escalated into what took place.

John Mansaray (Salone Times): Was it the RUF that was mining that caused this group to attack and stop them?

Major-General Agwai: You have misunderstood my explanation. Let me explain further. There was a meeting that agreed that mining should stop in Koidu. It was agreed that there is a 10-day grace period. Depending on whom you talk to, some say the mining ceases as from midnight of 19 December. Some say on midnight of 20 December. Some say the RUF stated the agreement is from 23 December. Whichever way you look at it, by the time that group moved and went to the police station, it was not yet midnight on 19 December. That group moved on the 19 December in the morning, not in the afternoon -- not to talk of the night. They moved on the morning of 19 December. Even if some were still mining, I would still say technically that the deadline had not yet reached.

Clarence Roy-MacCauley (Associated Press): Can you give us the casualty figures?

Major-General Agwai: The confirmed casualties are five dead; 40 injured. The degree of injuries differs. Some slightly, some a bit serious. There was one case of an injured person whose case was a bit severe, who was transferred to Freetown for better treatment. All others were treated and discharged from our Level 2 hospital in Freetown.

Clarence Roy-MacCauley (Associated Press): Can you tell us whether government authority has been extended to the district following the successful completion of disarmament?

Major-General Agwai: That does not fall under my area of specialization. That is purely a political thing - not military. I would say that if there was an agreement reached with the Paramount Chiefs, the police, UNAMSIL and the RUF leadership, then there is some presence of government authority. If not, the agreement would not have been reached. The degree of the presence of government authority and extension of government authority may be a different story altogether. But there is government authority because of the agreement.

John Bona (The New Storm): What is being done to ensure that the housing and caretaker chiefs issues do not end up causing a problem?

Major-General Agwai: These issues are very, very manageable. It is not only in Kono District when the RUF was in control where they appointed their own chiefs. It happened in Kambia, and there has been no fighting or killings there. In Bombali the chiefs have returned and there has been no fighting. In Lunsar, we had a housing committee made up of all the interested parties and virtually all housing problems in Lunsar have been settled amicably. In Kono, the other issues will be sorted. The case of Kono is unique. There is an economic interest. Let's be frank, we have disarmed over 5,000 youths -- what jobs are those 5,000 doing? These are young people, energetic people, with so much energy and what are they doing with all that energy? Remember, we have disarmed in so many areas in this country that people are moving more freely now. What stops somebody from Kambia to move down to Kono to join in the mining? There is an attraction in Kono District. The real solution is finding an answer to the mining. Collectively we are working to find a short-term, medium-term and a long-term solution. The immediate thing is to stop what is going on now so those who ran away from their houses, those who have become displaced by this thing will be able to go back home and start their normal life.

Sandy Massaquoi (Concord Times): Could you confirm if Demba Marrah, RUF Commander was killed in these riots?

Major-General Agwai: I cannot. I know that a figure of five that were killed. My priority yesterday was not to concentrate on the deaths, but to concentrate on the living so no one else dies. Honestly, who is killed, injured, whether it be RUF, CDF or civilians cut in the mayhem, I do not know.

John Bona (New Storm): Is the moratorium on mining going to hold?

Major-General Agwai: I would say yes. Nobody disputed the fact they have accepted the fact that mining in Koidu Township should cease. If you go to Koidu, people have mined across the roads and the roads have disappeared. People have mined under houses and the houses have collapsed. The RUF, CDF and civilians have accepted that mining within Koidu should stop. The only problem we have is the deadline - when should it stop.

Clarence Roy-MacCauley (Associated Press): Can you give us an up an update on the disarmament process?

Major-General Agawi: Up to now disarmament is still on track. In Tongo, where we have had problems at the beginning never recording as much as 50 in a day, we had 92 ex-combatants disarm on 19 December. I did visit Tongo Field and we had discussions with the RUF Commander, Col. Banya. He promised that on 19 December, he would resume disarmament and the figure of 92 proves that our discussion was fruitful. I went to Kailahun and there is no problem there. Yesterday, 295 were disarmed in Kailahun.

Clarence Roy-MacCauley (Associated Press): What are the figures in Tongo Field?

Major-General Agwai: 209, all RUF.

Clarence Roy-MacCauley (Associated Press): In Kailahun?

Major-General Agwai: 2,452 RUF and 4 CDF.

Clarence Roy-MacCauley (Associated Press): In Daru?

Major-General Agwai: The overall total for RUF in Daru is 361. The CDF total in Daru is 965. The total in the Kailahun district, which includes Daru: we have disarmed 2,813 RUF and 969 CDF. Since the beginning of the year we have disarmed 40,709 of which 4,193 are child combatants.

Thank you very much.

For additional information, contact UNAMSIL Public Information Office: UNAMSIL Headquarters, Mammy Yoko, P. O. Box 5, Freetown, Sierra Leone. Tel: 232-22-273-183/4/5 Fax: 232-22-273-189

Not an official document of the United Nations. Maintained by the Peace and Security Section of the Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

(c) United Nations 2001