SIERRA LEONE: IRIN Special Report on the Peace Process [19990707]

SIERRA LEONE: IRIN Special Report on the Peace Process [19990707]

SIERRA LEONE: IRIN Special report on the peace process

FREETOWN, 6 July 1999 (IRIN) - As efforts to resolve a deadlock at the Lome peace talks between Sierra Leone's government and rebels over the balance of power in a possible transitional government, opinions were divided in Freetown on the power-sharing issue.

"The rebels want absolute power," Dr S.U.M. Jah, head of the National Commission for Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (NCRRR), the government body responsible for coordinating relief assistance, told IRIN in Freetown.

"The international community is forcing the peace process down our throat," he said. "Change of government should not be through the barrel of a gun but through the ballot box."

Lansana Sesay, who had both forearms amputated by the rebels when they invaded Freetown in January, had a different view. "We want peace even if there is a power-sharing arrangement," he told IRIN. "If the President does not give something to Sankoh our problems will continue for ever."

Over the weekend RUF field commanders rejected a draft agreement reached by government and rebel negotiators. RUF leader Foday Sankoh told AFP his field commanders had rejected the offer of four cabinet posts and were calling instead for seven, plus the vice presidency. West African leaders travelled to Lome on Monday to try and salvage the peace process.

For John Hirsch, vice president of the International Peace Academy, "the war is not about ideology but about control of economic resources, especially the rich alluvial diamond fields of eastern Sierra Leone."

"The RUF has been reportedly supported by external intervention from Liberia, Burkina Faso and Libya while a shadowy network of diamond dealers and arms merchants have benefited from the conflict," he wrote in the summer editor of the Academy's newsletter.

"A peace settlement will have to provide a mix of incentives and disincentives for ending the conflict greater than the benefits which the RUF and its supporters apparently enjoy from its continuation," he said.

"At the same time," he said, "the democratically elected government is understandably averse to sharing power with rebel forces who not only opposed the 1996 election but have carried out a deliberate policy of mutilation and terrorism of the civilian population since then."

Alimamy Koroma, who has represented Sierra Leone's religious groups at the Lome talks, told IRIN: "Everyone knows that the RUF has committed unpardonable sins but the only way forward is through dialogue."

However, another question remains: Should a peace accord be signed in Lome what chance does it have of being successfully implemented?

Analysts point out that a peace agreement signed by Kabbah and Sankoh on 30 November 1996, was never implemented. The accord's provisions included a ceasefire to be monitored by the international community, the demobilisation of RUF combatants, restructuring of the army, withdrawal of mercenaries, and the creation of the conditions needed for the RUF to register as a political party.

According to Hirsch, who was US Ambassador to Sierra Leone at the time, President Kabbah has repeatedly indicated his readiness to implement the accords, provided the rebels cease hostilities and recognise the legitimacy of his elected government.

Many in Freetown feel that much has changed since 1996.

For one, the perception of the RUF has changed, said one analyst in Freetown: "The RUF used to be regarded as small fry. Now it has been officially recognised by the international community."

Some said the RUF really wants to be legitimate. "Like all criminals they crave respectability," a diplomatic source said.

Other analysts say the government also realises that it cannot win the war militarily since the rebels, which invaded Freetown early this year, now control about two-thirds of the country.

Moreover, the commitment of the new civilian government in Nigeria to maintain the same number of peacekeepers in Sierra Leone in view of heavy losses sustained by ECOMOG in December and January is also debatable, analysts say.


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Item: irin-english-1178

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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