Sierra Leone- Managing Uncertainty

24 Oct 2001

34pages PDF

The international community is ?cautiously optimistic? about the durability of the peace it has supported in Sierra Leone. There are indeed some reasons for growing optimism. The deployment of a more robust United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the disarmament of almost one half of the combatants, and the extension of government authority to almost all territory not controlled by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group are all welcome. They are largely the result of a more robust policy by the international community, in particular military and diplomatic pressure exerted on the RUF and its sponsor, Liberian President Charles Taylor, by Britain, Guinea, Sierra Leone civil militias, and the UN Security Council. The RUF?s commitment to peace is fragile and dependent upon sustained international pressure. The situation of ?no war, no peace? at the moment is thus one of both great jeopardy and great opportunity. Sierra Leone faces its best chance for peace in years, but the pressure responsible for creating this chance must be maintained and expanded. This realisation must shape international strategy, particularly in the crucial months leading up to the elections that are scheduled for 14 May 2002. A core component of that strategy should be to achieve ?Security First?, that is durable security throughout the entire country, well before the May elections. This will require full disarmament of the RUF, of course, but also robust UNAMSIL deployment, which maximises the role of the strongest national contingents, particularly the Pakistani battalions, and restoration of government authority throughout the country. It will also require putting together a credible, coordinated deterrent force that includes British Army, UNAMSIL and Sierra Leone Army (SLA) elements. Above all, ?Security First? requires that UNAMSIL demand a far more stringent disarmament and demobilisation process and adopt a firmer approach in its negotiations with the RUF. A second key component of international strategy must be directed at possible spoilers in the peace process besides the RUF, particularly the ruling Sierra Leone People?s Party (SLPP) and their associated Kamajor Civil Defence Forces (CDF). The SLA, which is being trained by British specialist troops, is also still a potential source of instability. Both CDF and SLA should be reformed and transformed under pressure to become more benign institutions whose loyalty to the state is ensured. In addition, the United Nations and the British need to urgently consider the regional dimensions of the conflict. Pressure on President Taylor and his supporters must be increased, and the UN Secretariat should broaden its focus of its work in Sierra Leone to Guinea and Liberia. Even assuming a good faith commitment by the parties and the establishment of security by election day, much will need to be done to ?win the peace?. Lack of funding for reintegration programs threatens the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process, and a better public information job needs to be done to explain the Special Court to prevent fears of indictment from disrupting the peace process. To ensure that the elections themselves are free and fair (and so perceived), they should be run by the UN, not the Sierra Leone government. In short, Sierra Leone?s history of stalled or collapsed peace processes may yet repeat itself if the crucial next seven months are not managed with care. The international community should proceed with more caution than optimism. RECOMMENDATIONS ON ACHIEVING SECURITY FIRST To UNAMSIL: 1. Change from a ?softly, softly? to a more assertive approach to peace negotiations with the RUF. 2. Apply pressure on the RUF and other armed parties to undergo a much more stringent disarmament process, including cordon and search operations led by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) with UNAMSIL?s strong and visible backup, which genuinely degrades their capaci