Sierra Leone

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping expresses cautious optimism in open briefing to Security Council on Sierra Leone

There was cause for cautious optimism about peace and reconstruction in Sierra Leone, even in the midst of a volatile security situation, ongoing human rights violations and a continuing humanitarian crisis, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bernard Miyet, to the Security Council this morning.

Speaking in an open briefing on the situation in Sierra Leone, Mr. Miyet said the rebels were now part of the Government and shared responsibility for moving the country towards peace. In the coming crucial period, the parties' commitment to the July 1999 Lomé Agreement would be put to the test. Significant progress had been made with regard to the deployment of the military component of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). But the Secretary-General had been in contact with regional leaders to emphasize the continuing importance of the Economic Community of West African States of the Military Observer Group (ECOMOG) maintaining a credible force of several thousand troops in Sierra Leone.

Leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the former Sierra Leone Armed Forces/Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) had encouraged ex-combatants to come forward for the disarmament, but the response had been slow, Mr. Miyet continued. The RUF and AFRC were reluctant to release adult and child abductees, and humanitarian personnel were being harassed, attacked and seized. Two doctors from the Medicines sans Frontier had been abducted. Delivery of humanitarian assistance was hampered by violence, even as the humanitarian crisis continued. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, both envisaged in the Lomé Agreement, were not yet established.

Following the Under-Secretary-General's briefing, Council members expressed grave concern about the recent increase in violent incidents, ceasefire violations and human rights abuses. Disarmament was proceeding too slowly, Council members stated. While some 4,500 ex-combatants were participating in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, there were about 40,000 persons still outside that programme.

The two doctors, and all abductees must be released immediately, Council members stressed. They called on the rebel leaders to demonstrate genuine commitment to the peace process and emphasized that the international community must make it clear to the rebels that the amnesty of the Lomé Agreement did not extend to atrocities committed after the signing of the accord.

Statements were made by the representatives of the Netherlands, Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Gabon, Gambia, Malaysia, Russian Federation, Slovenia, Namibia, United Kingdom and United States.

The meeting began at 10:45 a.m. and adjourned at 12:40 p.m.

Council Work Programme

The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing by the Secretariat on the situation in Sierra Leone.

The Council had before it a report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) (document S/1999/1223) in which he states that "the overall situation in the country remains precarious". He goes on to say that there has been substantial progress, including the return of the leadership of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) of Sierra Leone and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) to Freetown, the establishment of the Government of National Unity, the provisional registration of RUF as a political party, and a recent increase of the number of ex-combatants registering for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. Yet, he adds, there have also been serious human rights abuses, ceasefire violations, extensive movement of troops and weapons and the targeting of humanitarian personnel.

The Secretary-General warns that the continued violence against the people of Sierra Leone and international personnel is unacceptable and perpetrators should expect to be held accountable for their actions. The RUF and AFRC leadership, as well as all their local commanders, should prove by their actions that they are indeed committed to the peace process, in particular to the complete cessation of hostilities and international human rights standards and humanitarian law, including the release of all abductees as specified in the Lomé Agreement.

Despite some improvements, he continues, the humanitarian crisis continues unabated. In addition, some national and international humanitarian personnel have suffered harassment, assault and even detention at the hands of the former rebel forces. The delivery of assistance continues to be obstructed by arbitrary clearance procedures and threats. "This should stop", he says.

With regard to the Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG), he says that to play a critical role in providing national security functions as well as assisting the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, ECOMOG must maintain a credible force of several thousand troops. In that context, he renews his appeal for donor support to allow ECOMOG to effectively perform its tasks. He also encourages regional leaders involved in the Sierra Leonean peace process to continue to support the efforts of the Government of Sierra Leone, the international community and other stakeholders to bring peace to this battered country.

Continuing, the Secretary-General says there is an urgent need to strengthen and accelerate the process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex- combatants and to enhance the coordination of these activities. He encourages all concerned to continue their efforts to build confidence among the parties, increase awareness of the procedures and benefits of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. He states that he has already asked UNAMSIL to step up its efforts in support of these crucial aspects of the peace process.

The UNASIL was established under resolution 1270 (1999) with a mandate to: cooperate with the Government of Sierra Leone and other parties to the Lomé Peace Agreement of 7 July 1999 in the implementation of the Agreement; to assist in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants; and perform other tasks described by the Secretary-General in his report of 23 September 1999 (S/1999/1003).

Also under that resolution, the Council requested the Secretary-General to provide updates every 45 days on the status of the peace process, security conditions and the continued level of deployment of ECOMOG.


BERNARD MIYET, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that progress had been made in the implementation of the Lomé Peace Agreement. The rebels were now part of the Government and shared responsibility for moving the country towards peace. Another positive development was the registration of the RUF as a political party, although it still had to adopt its statutes and set up offices. He hoped that it would transform its military structure into a purely political party.

The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme was picking up speed, he said, and he hoped that the momentum would continue. While the leaders of the RUF and the AFRC had encouraged ex-combatants to come forward, response had been slow. Moreover, the various armed groups had yet to provide detailed information on the strength of their military forces. The estimated large number of ex-combatants required close coordination between the Government and international and national actors to avoid disruption in the country. The UNAMSIL had been instructed to assist the Government in that matter. He noted that after some initial disruption in the Lungi camp, the situation in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration camp was relatively quiet, but it was necessary to find the ways and means to keep the stay in the camps short.

Continuing, he said the security situation in the country remained volatile, although in recent days it appeared to be stabilizing. The RUF combatants had attacked and taken over the town of Makeni. In addition, there were frequent attacks by armed groups on villages and roads throughout the country. In the meantime, Sam Bockarie, a RUF commander, had made several statements that left doubt as to his commitment to the peace process. Efforts were now being made to provide him with clarifications about the Lomé Peace Agreement and the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.

He called attention to a recent abduction involving two doctors from the Medicine sans Frontier who had been detained in the region. Efforts were underway to obtain their speedy release, but it might be necessary for the Council to speak on the matter.

He went on to say that the human rights situation remained a concern, with too many occurrences of rape, looting and harassment of civilians. Both RUF and AFRC were reluctant to release adult and child abductees. The UNAMSIL had issued a strong appeal to the parties to take immediate action to end the abuses against civilians. He noted that one Ghanaian soldier was recently wounded when his unit was involved in the defence of a village under attack by rebels at Pepel Island, east of Lungi.

Continuing, he said the Human Rights Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, envisaged in the Lomé Agreement, had yet to be established. Regrettably, the humanitarian crisis continued and the delivery of humanitarian assistance had been seriously hampered by the outbreak of violence. Humanitarian personnel and experts, national and international, were still being harassed, attacked and sometimes seized. The Lomé Agreement clearly required all parties to the conflict to provide safe and unhindered access for humanitarian interventions and such access should be provided for as soon as possible.

Significant progress had been made with regard to the deployment of the military component of UNAMSIL and efforts continued to expedite its deployment, he said. The Secretary-General had been in touch with regional leaders, to emphasize the importance for ECOMOG to maintain in Sierra Leone a credible force of several thousand troops. The Secretary-General renews his appeal to provide ECOMOG with the support needed to effectively perform its tasks.

Despite his concerns, however, he said that there was also cause for some cautious optimism. It was clear that the commitments of the parties to the Lomé Agreement would be put to the test in the coming crucial period.

PETER VAN WALSUM (Netherlands) said that while important progress had been made in implementing the Lomé Peace Agreement, and the deployment of UNAMSIL was underway, the overall situation on the ground did not bode well for lasting peace. Violent incidents, ceasefire violations and human rights abuses had been reported with increasing frequency over the past two months. The neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian relief had not been respected. Humanitarian access had been impeded by the deteriorating security situation. Disarmament had been proceeding at too slow a pace.

He called on all rebel leaders to demonstrate their genuine commitment to the peace process in all details. The above-mentioned actions must cease immediately. It must be made clear to the rebels and their leaders that the amnesty of the Lomé Agreement did not extend to atrocities committed after the signing of the accord. Rebel leaders must call upon their fighters to disband and lay down their arms. All parties must give absolute priority to disarmament. While the participation of 4,500 ex-combatants was positive, some 40,000 persons were outside the programme.

He said he hoped the ECOMOG would continue to play its critical role in Sierra Leone as envisaged in the Agreement and stressed that while the primary focus at present must be on disarmament and the deployment of United Nations and ECOMOG personnel, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission must start as soon as possible.

FERNANDO ENRIQUE PETRELLA (Argentina) said the Secretary-General's report showed that the political and humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone was fragile and increasingly precarious. Statements made by Foday Sankoh and Mr. Bockarie were alarming and must be rejected. It was important to have UNAMSIL on the ground and deployed as quickly as possible. Subsequent to the Secretary-General's report, deployment had begun without difficulty and was encouraging. He welcomed and congratulated those countries that had contributed to the force.

He expressed particular concern about attacks on United Nations personnel and humanitarian staff. He exhorted the members to ratify the Convention on the safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, stating that all countries involved were responsible for the safety of that staff. The staff of other non-governmental organizations(NGOs) and humanitarian groups should also receive protection, he said. Continuing, he said the amnesty proclaimed under the Lomé Agreement should not be extended to those who had committed atrocities after the Agreement had been signed.

DENIS DANGUERÉWAKA (Gabon) welcomed the progress made towards the implementation of the Lomé Agreement, but said he regretted that certain parties had pursued a course of hostile actions. He condemned the continued aggression against civilians, international civil servants and humanitarian personnel.

He called on all ex-combatants that had not done so to lay down their arms and enter the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. He also called on rebel leaders to undertake an information campaign among their followers to explain the programme. He hoped that would lead them to more readily participate in the programme. He thanked the countries that had made or announced troop contingents or financial support and he extended praise to ECOMOG for its participation. Success, however, hinged on the participation of Sierra Leonians.

ROBERT FOWLER (Canada), noting that the first UNAMSIL troops had only arrived in Sierra Leone two weeks ago, said he hoped the civilian component would keep pace with the military component. He added that Mr. Sankoh should present early proposals for the Commission for the Management of Strategic Resources, National Reconstruction and Development, just as Mr. Koroma had done with regard to the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace.

Stating that there had been serious breeches of the ceasefire obligations, he said he was deeply concerned at the attacks on humanitarian personnel. The attacks on the two doctors from Medicins sans Frontier was a bitter reminder of the attacks still faced by humanitarian personnel in Sierra Leone. The delivery of much needed humanitarian assistance remained extremely difficult. The leaders should make sure that their commitments were translated into effective actions.

Continuing, he asked that the Under-Secretary-General let the Council know to what extent landmines were hindering the work of humanitarian personnel in the country. While he supported the establishment of the Human Rights Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, human rights violators should be warned that all who violated human rights after the Lomé Agreement has been signed should be brought to justice. He deplored the continued acts of violence by rebels against the civilian population. Rebel elements should be reminded that, in addition to ECOMOG's commitment, UNAMSIL had a robust mandate to protect civilians under threat.

ANDREI E. GRANOVSKY (Russian Federation) said he agreed with the observations in the Secretary-General's report and was pleased that there had been significant movement in giving effect to the Lomé Agreement. At the same time, the overall situation was still unstable. There had been serious violations of human rights, as well as the ceasefire agreement, and the precarious humanitarian situation continued unabated. The key to the settlement lay primarily in the commitment to the Lomé Agreement, and particularly to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. Steps taken by the people of Sierra Leone would be unfailingly supported by the international community.

YVES DOUTRIAUX (France) said he supported the implementation of the Lomé Agreement. He called on all parties, particularly the rebels, to abide by its stipulations. He welcomed the setting up of a new national government. However, he deplored the violations of the ceasefire, and the taking of hostages by particular rebels.

He called on the rebels to facilitate unhindered access to the delivery of humanitarian aid. He emphasized the importance of financial backing for carrying out the aid programme. He thanked ECOMOG for its role in providing security nationwide. Noting that troops had been deployed in the South of the country, he asked what the Secretary-General's intentions were concerning deployment in the North.

With regard to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, he said the report of Secretariat indicated that doubts remained about the commitment of the RUF to implementing the programme. Was that due to a desire on the part of the RUF to raise the stakes, a refusal to give up control of the diamond rich area or that RUF troops were not under the control of the leadership? he asked. Also, how did Mr. Sankoh plan to organize his commission?

BABOUCARR-BLIASE ISMAILA JAGNE (Gambia) said it was gratifying to note that progress had been made in the vital area of disarming, demobilizing and reintegration, although the participation of the ex-combatants appeared timid. It was particularly encouraging that some child soldiers had registered for the programme. His delegation appreciated the support given to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme by a number of governments, led by the United Kingdom and the World Bank.

The poor human rights situation was a source of deep concern, he said. It was difficult to understand how leaders of the RUF and AFRC could be part of the government, yet their followers continued to hold parts of the country hostage. The deployment of UNAMSIL would address that problem. There were six police advisors in Sierra Leone at the moment. What plans did the Secretariat have to deploy civilian police to Sierra Leone? he asked.

RASHID AL-DOSARI (Bahrain) welcomed the progress made thus far in implementing the Lomé Agreement, and the establishment of the National Unity Government. Commitment to the ceasefire was the cornerstone for peace and national reconciliation. The international community must concentrate on disarmament. He called on donor countries and international organizations to support that program in particular, and the peace process in Sierra Leone in general.

The political and military situation continued to be unstable, and that negatively affected the country's general security situation, he said. That situation affirmed the importance of the speedy deployment of the UNAMSIL observers. His delegation was concerned at the occurrence of kidnappings, rape and plunder, in particular in the eastern parts of the country. It was also a matter of concern that Sam Bockarie of the RUF was shirking his obligations under the Lomé Agreement and raising doubts about his commitment.

He condemned all acts of violence and crimes perpetrated against civilians and humanitarian workers, most recently the kidnapping of two doctors from an international non-governmental organization. The country urgently needed the continued inflow of humanitarian assistance and havens for thousands of refugees and displaced persons. His delegation had raised the need on more than one occasion for the international community to support the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), regarding artificial limbs, in order to reintegrate amputee victims into society. The Secretariat should consider establishing a centre for that purpose. He called on all parties to put the interest of their country above all other considerations.

HASMY AGAM (Malaysia) expressing deep concern about the reports of rape and destruction of property, said the parties must not allow the peace momentum to backslide. He called on the RUF and the AFRC to honor commitments under the peace agreement, and for the immediate release of all abductees, especially children. He deplored the abduction of the two doctors and called for their immediate release and urged the Council President to include that in any statement to the press after the meeting.

Stressing that UNAMSIL's deployment was crucial to peace in the country, he said he attached particular importance to the successful implementation of the program for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. Progress to date in that program had been too slow. He noted recent disturbances resulting from a misunderstanding over the issue of financial assistance to ex-combatants and underscored that there should be no recurrence. He called on the rebel leaders to ensure that ex-combatants surrendered their weapons and participated fully in the programme for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

ANDREJ BENEDEJCIC (Slovenia) recalled that the Council had expressed concern about the situation in Sierra Leone several times in recent weeks. The disquieting nature of the Secretary-General's first report on UNAMSIL was not surprising. It was clear that, despite progress, the situation on the ground had deteriorated markedly in recent weeks. His Government was particularly concerned about criminal behavior by former rebel elements. The blanket amnesty for war crimes in the peace agreement was difficult to bring in line with ending the culture of impunity. Therefore, the leaders should call on their followers to immediately cease their criminal acts.

There was cause for cautious optimism, he said, and noted the increase in the number of ex-combatants registering for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, he said. The current period should represent a critical watershed in the process to usher Sierra Leone to reconciliation and reconstruction. The last thing the country needed was a repeat of last year's rebel offensive, of which members of the Council had received advance warning from Sweden's Ambassador Hans Dahlgren.

SELMA NDEYAPO ASHIPALA-MUSAVYI (Namibia) said that since the signing of the Lomé Agreement, human rights violations by the rebel groups continued to characterize Sierra Leone's political landscape. Recent fighting had caused massive displacement of the civilian population and the suspension of humanitarian assistance to those in need. She called for the immediate release of the two doctors who had been abducted.

Her Government held the rebels responsible for the current situation, she said. The RUF and other rebel movements could not simultaneously be political parties and rebel movements. Soldiers had no choice but to listen to their leaders. Those who commanded and controlled the combatants in Sierra Leone must take the necessary steps for the disarmament and reintegration programme to proceed unhindered. The program would not succeed when abductions, looting and objection to releasing child soldiers persisted.

She called for the speedy deployment of the 6,000 UNAMSIL component, but said she wondered whether even the full component could deal with over 40,000 combatants. In proposing that 6,000 strength, the Secretary-General had also stated that the number should be reviewed in line with conditions on the ground. That provision still held, she said.

She expressed appreciation to the donor community for contributing to the programme and to efforts for reconstruction. She thanked ECOMOG for its efforts to maintain security under unstable conditions and echoed the Secretary-General's call to the international community to assist ECOMOG in that regard. The Lomé Agreement was now being put to a test, but so too was the international community's resolve.

NANCY SODERBERG (United States) said the United Nations had taken a number of steps to assist in the peace process in Sierra Leone. The Organization's role in monitoring the ceasefire and assisting in the disarmament program was crucial to the success of the peace. The ECOMOG troops had performed ably under difficult circumstances. The United Nations was doing its part, but it could not impose peace on the parties; it was up to them to uphold their agreements.

It was also crucial that the international community underscore the need for all ex-combatants to uphold their agreements and disarm as soon as possible, she continued. All leaders in the region should maintain pressure on Sierra Leone's factional leaders. The annual Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit provided an opportunity for that. It was important for all parties to guarantee safety and freedom of movement for United Nations and humanitarian personnel. The abduction of the two doctors was deeply troubling. The United States called for the release of all persons being held captive. The United States and the international community stood ready to help the people of Sierra Leone rebuild their shattered lives, but ultimately, adhering to the commitments for peace was the responsibility of Sierra Leonians themselves.

GELSON FONSECA (Brazil) said that, despite progress, Sierra Leone still faced serious difficulties and the situation remained fragile. He condemned the attacks on humanitarian workers and demanded the release of the doctors from Medicins sans Frontier.

He said there was an urgent need to remove all obstacles to the implementation of the Lomé Agreement. However, the Sierra Leonians themselves must participate. A major priority was to see that all parties abided by the Agreement. They must be warned that the international community would not countenance continued violations and would take measures against those who refused to join the peace process.

The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme was essential he said. He urged strict compliance with the arms embargo. The Secretary-General's report called attention to the fact that humanitarian assistance could not be provided safely. It was imperative that safe access be provided for humanitarian assistance. It was essential that the international community continue to provide financial assistance.

QIN HUASUN (China) said that the situation in Sierra Leone was developing in a positive direction. He expressed thanks for all who had made outstanding contributions to the peace process. Nevertheless, he said, the present situation was still fragile. Various unstable elements could affect the peace process at any time. Violations of human rights still occurred. There was no room for optimism when contemplating of the future of Sierra Leone.

He expressed surprise at Mr. Sankoh's statement that he might suspend participation the disarmament programme and by the refusal of Mr.Koroma's followers to participate. He called on the international community to increase its assistance to further implementation of the programme. He was aware that the first contingent of UNAMSIL had been deployed and that the formulation for a national security framework was almost in place. The international community must continue its joint efforts to help the people of Sierra Leone achieve peace and national reconciliation.

Council President, Sir JEREMY GREENSTOCK (United Kingdom), speaking as his country's representative, said it was critical that the peacekeeping force be deployed at full strength as soon as possible. The force commander must have the backing of his Headquarters in New York. The Lomé Agreement gave the best chance for the people of Sierra Leone to put an end to the suffering they had endured in recent years. His Government condemned the breaks in the ceasefire, as well as the criminal attacks that had taken place, and was appalled by the kidnapping of two NGO workers.

Tensions between rebel groups and leaders lay behind much of the current unrest, he said. The information and sensitization strategy was vital in encouraging the disarmament of groups that had not yet done so. The United Kingdom welcomed the announcement this morning of contributions from the Netherlands and France.

Mr. MIYET said that the Secretary-General's new Special Representative to Sierra Leone, Olugemi Adeniji, had already demonstrated his experience, authority and capability in managing a difficult operation in the Central African Republic. He had proven he would be up to the task of the months ahead.

Responding to an inquiry by the Canadian representative, he said that recently, landmines had been discovered in the country, but he did not know the scope of the problem. A technical unit would be sent to the area soon, to determine the logistics of demining.

He said the mission of civilian police force was a different question. It was under the Department of International Development of the United Kingdom. It was not a task that had been given to the United Nations, but the Organization was supporting it and would continue to do so. One hundred peace officers had been trained this week and that programme would be further developed.

He said that the ECOMOG troops would be maintaining their robust presence in certain areas, and there was no need for UNAMSIL to deploy troops in those regions. Regarding the deployment o