|RUF representatives talk to Focus
A MISSION FOR PEACE
The editor of Focus on Sierra Leone Mr Ambrose Ganda recently accompanied two other Sierra Leoneans - Messrs Omrie Golley and Oluniyi Robin-Coker of the National Convention for Reconstruction and Development (NCRD) - for a rendez-vous with two senior representatives of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). The meeting was facilitated through the good offices of International Alert, an NGO based in London which has direct contact with the RUF. After a brief introduction by the IA man, the three men were left in the company of their two RUF compatriots.
The one - Rep.1 - was aged about 35. He is a member of their War Council and represents civilians on it. He graduated from the Njala University College with a BSc in agriculture and was a teacher when the RUF took over the Kailahun District. He had empathy with the RUF's message and so he joined it. He is presently one of their three spokesmen and has been heard often defending his organisation's position on BBC Focus on Africa.
The other - Rep.2 - also aged between 30 and 35, graduated from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, with an honours degree in mechanical engineering. He is an original member of the movement and is currently a combatant with the rank of Captain. He has held various positions in the organisation including head of G5, Front Line Commander and head of G1. He is a member of the RUF's Foreign Mission Committee on which he represents the combatants.
Both men spoke lucidly as they explained their philosophies of life and what had led them to go into the bush and leave their families and friends behind.
Ed. Why did you people decide to wage this war in Sierra Leone?
Rep.1 The RUF took up the armed struggle because we saw it as the only means of bringing about fundamental change in Sierra Leone.
Ed. Did we have to experience such a destructive war in order to bring about this kind of change?
Rep.1 All other peaceful means of opposition to government had failed. As students we suffered deprivation and even when we made legitimate demands, Siaka Stevens and his government always used the full force of the State to frustrate our wishes. When we completed our degrees, you might say we had every opportunity eventually to make our way up the social ladder but the plight of families, friends and ordinary people around us and the evidence of our own experiences convinced us to take up arms to redress the injustices.
Ed. But surely, there are other ways of pursuing this redress other than the threat and use of violence.
Rep.2 We realised that power lies in the barrel of the gun - this being the way in which the authorities always used to quell our (students') expressions of discontent. Every Sierra Leonean must be empowered to defend himself ... herself. For too long, people in power had taken advantage of the weak who formed the majority in our country. It was the dictators who declared war on our people, keeping them in poverty and deprivation. The RUF is the one fighting to enforce peace. We just could not contain our anger at the lack of social justice in the country. It was not helped when ex-
President Momoh once said in Kailahun that education is not a right but a privilege.
Ed. What does the RUF stand for?
Rep.1 The RUF is a peoples' militia designed to empower ordinary people to reclaim the wealth of the country for their own use and self-development, and to reinstate democracy which had been confiscated from them by successive, notably APC, governments since 1968. Because ours is a peoples' movement, no one needs a membership card or application form to join. Everyone is welcome in it because it already belongs to the people of Sierra Leone.
One of the men claimed that he was shot with a rubber bullet during the 1984 students' protests in Freetown and the other had tear gas thrown at him and his colleagues in 1978 during demonstrations at Njala university.
They said that the RUF launched its first attack entering Sierra Leone from Liberia on 25 March 1991, from Bomaru in the Kailahun District. They quickly opened another flank, travelling over the Manor River Bridge into the Pujehun District.
Ed. As you are aware our main interest in all this is to secure a peaceful resolution of the conflict through a negotiated settlement. Why won't you talk to the NPRC?
Rep.2 After the coup by the NPRC, we extended an olive branch to them and invited them to hold talks with us to plan a joint programme which could bring the war to an end. As a goodwill gesture our leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, ordered us to dissolve all ambushes because, in his own words, "Your brothers have taken over in Freetown. There is no longer a need for us to continue the fighting. Very soon they will be sending emissaries to us so that we can sit down and resolve this matter once and for all". We agreed with this in the firm expectation that the NPRC would recognise us as the catalysts who had created the conditions for the change that had occurred. It was the fact that we had launched a revolt against the system which weakened its resolve and enabled those boys in the NPRC to overthrow the APC. We enlightened those soldiers at the front who carried out the coup. Our men used to shout across battle lines, giving lessons in ideology to the men opposite.
We waited for days without any response from the NPRC to our initiative. Instead they chose the military option. We heard after-wards that they had gone to Pakistan, Nigeria and Ghana for military assistance. They launched a surprise offensive on us while we were militarily relaxed and unprepared. It caused very severe setbacks for us and led to a large loss of some of our best men. It also resulted in serious discord between the ranks and the leader. But we regrouped and re-launched our own counter offensive.
Ed. But did you try other means of reaching the NPRC even after they, as you say, let you down?
Rep.2 No! We decided to resume the fighting on the following bases ...we saw the NPRC as an extension of APC regime ... we the RUF are opposed to military regimes and dictatorships alike and one cardinal issue which we were determined to insist upon, had the NPRC taken the offer of coming together, was the immediate return of power to the people, ie the holding of free and fair democratic elections. When they failed to respond, we henceforth saw them as untrustworthy as was shown by their non-response to our olive branch. The NPRC boys betrayed their paymasters in the APC - so they are the rebels ... the RUF does not trust the NPRC to conduct free and fair elections - they are not different from the APC. Can Sierra Leoneans really say that anything has changed since these guys seized power? Indeed they are behaving worse than the people they overthrew.
Ed. The NPRC may well be all of these things but someone has to be in charge... for the moment they are the government, lawfully or not. If we are to have peace at home, both of you must get together with representatives of the people to discuss your differences. Why won't you?
Rep.2 We are not against talking. But the RUF does not, and cannot recognise the NPRC as it is not a constitutionally elected government. It cannot therefore be a conduit for democracy. The NPRC hijacked democracy. By its very nature the military is un-democratic, therefore government of the military must be undemocratic. The RUF on the other hand is not a military organisation but a mass organisation wherein people - ordinary men and women - are enabled through the use of arms to regain that which rightly belongs to them. It pains us grievously that we are called "rebels" while the NPRC is given legitimacy internationally. Yet we are fighting to restore democracy to the people against those who seized power. Most Sierra Leoneans should know by now that a coup is not a revolution - it does not deliver democracy. What the RUF is doing is to engage our people in a popular struggle which will give power to them - the power to decide what system they want for themselves. The NPRC have no authority to conduct the forthcoming elections. Nobody elected them - they imposed themselves on the people. The RUF on the other hand is leading a people's uprising. That is why we have said we will talk to any of our brothers and sisters without condition. That is why we are opening our hearts to you people because we believe and trust you. But we will not sit and talk to those boys in the NPRC. They are liars ...usurpers ...they are rebels. ?
(To be continued.)
(Next Edition: About the leader of the RUF ..... and
who is responsible for the violence.)
RUF OFFICIALS ARRESTED IN CONAKRY (REP. OF GUINEA)
As we to go to press news has just reached us about the arrest and detention, by Guinean security forces, of four alleged members of the RUF in Conakry. They were immediately handed over to the military authorities in Freetown where they are reported to have undergone intense and rigorous interrogation. The NPRC was reported to be making a meal of their captives. "Slow death" was how a contact in Free-town described their treatment. The four, including two senior officials of the RUF, have been paraded before TV audiences after they allegedly "confessed to have been on a gun running mission on behalf of the RUF". The two officials were named as Mr James Massallay and Mrs Isatu Kallon. The RUF's spokesman, Mr Fayia Musa, speaking from the Ivory Coast, claimed on BBC Focus on Africa that their officials were in transit via Guinea en route to link up with the rest of a 5-person delegation that is scheduled to meet OAU Secretary General, Dr Ahmed Salim Salim in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) the following week. Explaining the presence of funds in the possession of his comrades, Musa said that they were in Guinea to secure humanitarian items, including drugs, for civilians in RUF held territory before proceeding to meet other members of their delegation.
We understand that frantic steps are being taken to ensure that the coming out of the RUF to Addis goes ahead.
When the news of the arrests broke out in London, Focus immediately contacted the offices of International Alert who have been facilitating the Addis meeting and was told that the RUF had already issued a statement protesting at the detention and handing over of their delegates to the Sierra Leone authorities. They said that the RUF was demanding the release of their people to enable them to proceed to the planned opening of dialogue with the international community. The RUF is said to have challenged the Sierra Leone government to allow the people of Sierra leone to hear a taped message from Foday Sankoh, which their people were carrying with them along with other documents, to prove the purpose of their mission.
Another casualty of this apparent debacle for the RUF was the veteran politician cum self-proclaimed peacemaker Dr John Karefa-Smart who was alleged to have been named by the female captive, Isatu Kallon, as one of those who "was helping to facilitate the supply of arms to the RUF" - a claim he vigorously denied as "preposterous" and which he rubbished with relish. He was apparently taken in for questioning by the authorities but released afterwards. He claimed that somebody was out to tarnish his name because they are envious of his popularity among his people and party. But he vowed to stay around this time and no one was going to bully him out of the country as before.
(More details will be carried in the next edition.)
(1) HOLDING ELECTIONS NOW - A FATAL MISTAKE BY THOSE WHO OUGHT TO KNOW BETTER
By all recent accounts coming from Freetown, the city is in the tight grip of election fever. Sierra Leone's politicians have taken the elections to heart in a big way despite compelling evidence that it will be constantly mocked by the reality of an ongoing war and human affliction of unspeakable proportions. They believe that it is the way forward. We disagree and believe an Interim Government of National Unity will do for now.
The elections are ill-timed, unnecessary now and will only exacerbate an already hopeless situation - one which will still be there long after the proportions and ratios have been worked out under the new electoral system. In ideological and practical terms, these elections are seriously flawed in both their timing and their conduct.
In their timing - because holding elections when a significant number of the electorate do not feel secure is a glaring show of contempt for their human rights and fundamental freedoms. It rubber stamps the actions of the armed gangs that are killing and terrorising civilians up and down the country, committing humiliating and degrading acts upon their persons, and inflicting horrific injuries on them. Where is the solidarity with the suffering mass of Sierra Leoneans especially those in the Provinces? What these impending elections are saying to them is clear: You bear your fates. We are safe over here so we will hold our own elections. We cannot wait for you. You are on your own. The world must go on and we, in the Capital, must move on along with it.
In their conduct - for the following reasons: (1) As someone once said, the development of democracy must match the development of education; the development of democracy ahead of educational progress is counter-productive. We are not convinced that education about the political and civic rights and duties of citizens - the subjects of abuse and neglect throughout the years of APC rule - has been sufficiently addressed so that ordinary people can chose that which is in their best interest. If this is considered to be patronising, then consider the story that politicians have been using bags of rice to solicit the votes of the starving and the destitute. Where people are well informed about their rights they would know that the bags of rice were meant for them in the first place and, secondly, that the persons offering them for "free" probably have no right to it and have come by it through corrupt means.
(2) Significantly, will the winning party gain the respect and cooperation of the opposition parties - ie the losers at such an election? Some education would help our politicians to understand the need for mutual accommodation. In the absence of that, the losers will go all out, spitefully, to do a spoiling job on the nation, creating sinews of further discord in the body politic. Can INEC or the NCD really claim that there is this degree of awareness among the current posse of politicians?
(3) We are not convinced that elections will be free and fair - the NPRC own the ballot boxes; they created INEC and stuffed it with those who would do their bidding; they are currently running the country - admittedly badly - and will, presumably, be in charge right up to the time of those elections; they also own the mercenaries; so why should their favoured people and party lose the elections?
(4) If NPRC soldiers have been unable to control their own men, what guarantees have we that the same soldiers will obey the civilian government in the absence of a purposive restructuring and re-education of the army? While the war goes on, who will be giving the orders? Would they be fighting the war with greater commitment and discipline than they have been able to show? Will they cease the abuses that are taking place in flagrante delicto?
(5) Where does that leave the other side - the combatants of the RUF who are stakeholders, whether we like it or not, in this war of attrition. They say they have a commitment to fight on, unless their own conditions are met. Could these elections not be perceived as a slap in their face? And does it then encourage dialogue in the future?
(6) It is utterly immoral to use the amount of money - $17 million budgeted for by Mr James Jonah - just to run an election when the vast majority of people can neither afford a sleeping place nor a decent meal for the day. Surely if we have this amount of money, we should be using it prudently for peace, relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction to alleviate the consequences and continuing effects of this war - famine, displacement, physical and mental scarring and the destruction of the national infrastructure. While it is admittedly difficult - but not impossible - to put together an Interim Government that is universally acceptable, it is arguably a far better proposition both in terms of efficacy and cost to the nation than the futile exercise of sham electioneering by politicians. We foresee no dividend accruing to the rest of the nation because of these elections.
Our verdict - THE ELECTIONS MUST BE POSTPONED INDEFINITELY.
Let's have a demonstrably visible commitment to peace by all sides and
let's engage in meaningful dialogue. This appeal is as much to the NPRC,
the RUF and the hungry politicians who have been so shortsighted in their
eagerness for power. Let's hang heads together, as has been done recently
in Liberia and Bosnia, and thrash out a basis for ending this conflict
once and for all. Because these elections will not include the real victims
of the war, it makes a mockery of their sacrifices. Men and women of goodwill
everywhere must deprecate this kind of adventurism. Let's have a go at
creating a cross-sectional representative GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY
- to superintend our national affairs, with a specific mandate to initiate
meaningful dialogue involving all sides to this conflict.
(2) LET'S TRY AN INTERIM GOVERNMENT
Those who instantly dismiss the idea of an Interim Government have failed, markedly, to observe developments taking place right under their noses in Liberia, and now in Bosnia. But we will not allow it to escape the attention of Sierra Leoneans that the present, admittedly shaky, government in Liberia is an interim administration comprising of all the warring factions and civilians. It was only arrived at, following peace talks which then gave it a mandate to govern Liberia until elections are held sometime in the future.
What is so different and unique about the Sierra Leone experience that people should think of an interim government as anathema? Are people saying that we, too, should go through the full action replay of the nasty experiences of the Liberian civil war before we come to our senses? The answer to how one selects such a government lies in that experience - by negotiation.
The RUF should not let a wise lesson go amiss. They could
not have failed to notice that Charles Taylor and the other Liberian
warlords came to the conference table in Abuja (Nigeria) while their
men were still fighting. It would, of course, be even better for us in
Sierra Leone if there was a ceasefire. The crucial point is that to come
to talks and present your position is not to surrender. We therefore exhort
them to take the bold step to come out and accept, un-conditionally, the
offer of talks either through the UN, the Commonwealth Secretariat or the
OAU. If it requires any facilitation by this medium, then we are prepared
for that challenge.
No way to treat ones own citizens
(3) KAREFA-KARGBO MUST GO
The news of the execution on 10 November of human rights activists in Nigeria was sickening enough, to say the least. It was carried out by a military dictatorship supported by soldiers who, for as long as Nigeria has been independent, have shown scant regard for the human rights of their own citizens. The unlawful taking away of innocent lives - in this case human rights protagonists of the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria - was inexcusable and will, forever, remain an indelible blot on the political landscape of that country. What is so frightening about it is that it happened in a country that is supposed to be the super power and principal power broker in our own region - West Africa.
We too, in Sierra Leone, are not new to this kind of inhumanity. Some tearaways in the NPRC impulsively sent 29 of their compatriots to the firing squad three years ago without the due process of law. The international reaction then, as now in the Nigerian case, was one of outrage, moral indignation and worldwide opprobrium. But they were very quickly rehabilitated to become people "to do business with". No doubt things will subside in Nigeria and as the dust settles on this new manifestation of callous inhumanity, the same people who expressed disgust and disapproval will be doing business with the Nigerian dictator. African lives are expendable as long the "business goes on".
The events in Nigeria should make us in Sierra Leone sit up and think more deeply. The same people are using the same guns that brought them to power in the first place. They are helped in no small measure by other soldiers from - yes - Nigeria who are based in our country under the guise of ECOMOG forces; by soldiers from Guinea whose President, Mons Lansana Conté, is a soldier-turned-civilian, under the terms of a nebulous bilateral defence pact; and by ideologues of Ghana's Jerry Rawlings - another soldier-turned-civilian President - who are based in Freetown as advisers to Captain Strasser and his government. On top of that the NPRC has also bought in the help of hired killers: first, ex British Gurkhas and now, mercenaries from Southern Africa - Executive Outcomes who, in exchange for holding the RUF at bay - not for ending the war - have been given virtual sovereignty over a huge chunk of our national territory which contains the richest seams of our God-given natural resources. It is an act that ranks equally with treason!
Nearer home, civilians are witnessing incidents in the streets of a hitherto complacent Freetown which, alas, is bringing to the fore the naivety of our compatriots in believing that they are insulated from the kind of violence that has gripped the countryside. They feel safe from the RUF whom they rightly despise, forgetting that, in their midst, they have sinister elements replicating the scenes that people up country have been enduring all this time. One spect-acle after another shows that these soldiers have no regard for their citizens. Soldiers have laid into unarmed and defenceless civilians in the heart of the city and the same culprits are allowed to roam the streets without censure. They bully, harass, inflict serious injury on civilians and hi-jack vehicles. With the soldiers completely out of order, the anarchy in the battlefield is being replayed right in the heart of the capital by gun-toting bandits-cum-soldiers.
In a recent case at Sibthorpe Street, peaceful citizens were unlawfully set upon and terrorised by armed gangs whose loyalty, allegedly, lay with the NPRC's military Director of Information Major Karefa-Kargbo. The latter can be heard often, rightly, condemning "the violence of the RUF" and extolling the sacrifices of the Sierra Leonean soldiers at the war front. But here he was, allegedly, condoning the violence inflicted by his own soldiers on innocent citizens living on this street which is supposed to be safe under his own government's protection. One of the victims, King David Turay, described his ordeal as follows: "About ten soldiers stormed my house and forcefully dragged me to the street and started beating me with guns. They bayonetted my head and I became unconscious. I regained consciousness in the back boot of a green mercedes benz car which I learnt later belonged to a security man called Puma. After two hours of torture, I was released but they promised to come back". (Culled from For Di People of 2 November 1995.)
If the allegation is true that Major Karefa-Kargbo sanctioned the despatch of the squad that unleashed this mayhem on the residents of Sibthorpe Street - because someone had a tiff with his relative -then he is not fit to hold public office.
Captain Strasser should sack him along with the scoundrels who brought untold misery to the lives of these decent and ordinary folk in our capital. He must be sacked now if the army is to start restoring its public image. Any amount of public relations will not alter the established public's perception that they are, indeed, thugs. They continually tarnish the image of the dedicated and professional rank and file member of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces (SLAF). The army does not need people like that - we must weed them out.
Does anyone now doubt persistent claims that certain regular
SLAF soldiers are going around terrorising the population up country while
blaming it on RUF rebels? If they can do it in broad daylight in the capital
what should stop them doing it in the remoter parts of the country, far
away from the gaze and scrutiny of an informed public? Come on fellow Sierra
Leoneans, wake up and think hard about these things. You may be next for
the soja's boots! We are all under attack from both sides.
After the passports racket it's .....
THE SCAM OF END-USER CERTIFICATES
Information has reached Focus about yet another scam that is allegedly being run by very senior officials in the NPRC, aided and abetted by civil servants. It follows closely upon the disclosure, in Focus Vol 1 No 5, of the scandalous sale of Sierra Leone passports to putative stateless Hong Kong citizens.
The new allegation, if true, will rank as another serious violation and abuse of the country's sovereignty. Our sources have claimed that, as at this very moment, a ship laden with arms and ammunition ostensibly for Sierra Leone but in fact destined for a particular country, is due to arrive in Freetown on or about the 25 November. From there it will be transhipped to the country - we do not know its name - for which it was originally intended. The country in question has resorted to this method of purchasing its arms because it is the subject of a worldwide arms embargo. Naturally it has been done at considerable cost to itself but at equally considerable benefit to our greedy and unscrupulous public servants. We do not know how much or what was offered in return for this quasi prostitute service.
The abuse of end-user certificates is not new and is condemned by anti war campaigners as being the catalyst for wars and providing the way out for tyrants and dictators in many countries for whom the conventional lines for purchasing arms are no longer available. As other methods are burdensome and bureaucratic, the end-user certificate affords a convenient shield for a country determined to evade an arms embargo. What Sierra Leonean officials, in a position of national trust, are doing acting as a conduits and facilitators for circumventing the will of the international community in its attempt to control the access to weapons of destruction is a question only the NPRC can answer. Stoking other people's wars, when we have ours at home to settle, defies reality.
(Officials at the Department of Information and
Broadcasting may wish to comment either by way of denial, explanation or
affirmation of this story.)
INTERNATIONAL ALERT DEFENDS ITS CONTACT WITH THE RUF
International Alert has been associated with the efforts to bring peace in Sierra Leone. As the organisation with, probably, the closest contact with the RUF it has been accused, by at least one Sierra Leonean newspaper, of being a front for that organisation. The editor of Focus recently interviewed its Secretary General Dr Kumar Rupesinghe and put this and other questions to him.
Ed. Can you tell me what your organisation is about?
KR. International Alert (IA) was formed 10 years ago primarily for the resolution and prevention of conflict. We are a registered Charity in the UK with a distinguished board of trustees. We are held accountable by charity law under which all our funds are accounted for. Our work is based on humanitarian ideals, with a commitment to impartiality. Our main concern is for peace with justice. It was realised even then that most conflicts were not international but between rival groups and communities within countries. The notion of sovereignty and the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of countries meant that no mediator could go in without the invitation of that country. IA therefore acts a catalytic agent by going early into a conflict area in order to gain the trust of the parties involved. This is not always easy. At the very least, we need the invitation of one party who can call upon us to facilitate the process. We have played major roles in various countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Over the years, we have gained both conceptual and practical experiences and approaches in conflict prevention and resolution. In our work we cooperate with the UN, governments and non-governmental organisations.
Ed. How did you get involved in events in Sierra Leone?
KR We were previously involved in the peace process in Liberia and had achieved some limited successes. Since 1993 we have led a silent but effective campaign that there could not be peace in Liberia while civil conflict continued in Sierra Leone. We campaigned for the international community to apply the same energy to Sierra Leone as applied to Liberia. The credit is shared by all now. Our special representative had contacts with leading personalities/stakeholders in the conflict both in Liberia and Sierra Leone. After he joined us he became, naturally, bound by our mandate and terms of reference and, thus, accountable to IA. His specialist knowledge of the area and his extensive contacts were resources which could be deployed in the cause of the peace process. We had no doubt that he could play an effective role in Sierra Leone. In initiating our programme he visited Freetown where he consulted with government representatives and discussed the opportunity of creating a facility for dialogue among parties to the conflict. At the time of his visit, peace, and even the delivery of humanitarian aid, were intricately linked to the release of the hostages. This situation changed, however, following the intervention of IA's representative who discussed the need for the release of the hostages to be unconditional. The RUF decided, at that stage, to release the hostages through IA. They wanted a reliable organisation whom they trusted to facilitate the release and eventual handover. We are not in the business of hostage politics, a fact that we conveyed to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
ED. It has been alleged that you interfered with an existing settlement to release the hostages. They say you went in for the publicity. Is this true?
KR Absolute nonsense! The RUF did not trust any other organisation to facilitate the release. The hostages themselves are witnesses to that. Of course we would like the world to know what we do. But we did not seek any publicity for this event though we could have brought in the big media guns like CNN, BBC, etc to witness it.
ED. What about the video your representative took of Foday Sankoh and the RUF in their camp? Was it not propaganda for the RUF?
KR It took a courageous long march by our representative to bring out a story - a human story of courage and endurance which needed to be told. We live in a modern age - an era in which people record and document events. The world needs to know what, if anything, the RUF and Foday Sankoh stand for. All sides in this conflict have a point of view. To demonise us for what we did and are still trying to do is not constructive. Ever since the hostages were released, our sole objective has been to facilitate a process where a dialogue and open lines of communications would develop between the RUF and the UN, OAU, the Commonwealth Secretariat, ECOWAS, and any other interested organisations.
ED. Some people have been suspicious of your organisation. They say, for example, that you are a front for the RUF. What have you to say?
KR Yes, I have heard that being said. But would they say that Dr Berhanu Dinka (the UN Special Envoy) is a front for the NPRC when he talks to the government or because he resides in Freetown? Are the Embassies in Freetown a front for the government? Look, we are by law and by our mandate and charitable status bound by certain codes. We are not distributing material of the RUF as has been alleged, none whatsoever. We do not issue press statements on their behalf. We are not a solidarity organisation of the RUF. We are only trying to facilitate an end to the civil conflict by way of dialogue among interested parties, so that peace can return to Sierra Leone.
ED. You incurred the wrath of several people who attended the Oslo Peace Conference in Norway last July. You were invited but did not attend. Why?
KR As an organisation treading the precarious road to peace we have to be, and be seen to be, neutral. We, of course, applaud the desire of all Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora for peace in their country. That conference was very much a Sierra Leonean affair where International Alert's physical presence might have been misunderstood and misinterpreted by all sides.
ED. Others have said also that while they applaud what you are trying to do, you have nonetheless monopolised both the information about, and the access to, the RUF. Is this true?
KR Again, that is not true. In February this year, for example, we were able to create an environment for Sierra Leoneans to meet the representatives of the RUF at a workshop for peace and reconciliation in Dakar (Senegal). We feel that more meetings between all sections of Sierra Leonean society are important and we will do our utmost to facilitate these meetings.
ED. Have you got any contacts with the NPRC government?
KR We have spoken to their representatives on a number of occasions and some very high level officials have visited us in London.
ED. Finally, can you tell me at what stage we are? What are the prospects for peace as you see it?
KR Firstly, we deeply regret the great suffering
of the people of Sierra Leone. There is widespread fear and anguish among
the civilian population. Thousands have lost their lives. This is what
motivates us at International Alert. It is the driving force behind all
our work in that country. There are many forces poised to profit through
this war - outside forces particularly - trading in weapons, arms, and
the country's resources. We must do everything we can so that children
and women, especially, do not suffer in this situation. Peace is difficult
but possible because there is a global desire for it. We should take comfort
in what is happening on the peace front in African countries like South
Africa, Mozambique, Angola and Liberia. What is needed is the creation
of a regional framework for peace and justice. Parties to this conflict
must sit around the table to discuss the issues and resolve their differences.
We ourselves cannot do this. Only the parties to the conflict can engage
in that process. Secondly, real peace can only be won by the people - the
most potent constituency for peace. There is a tremendous will to work
for peace in Sierra Leone and we have been impressed by the ground swell
of citizen-based peace organisations that have emerged. I am therefore
optimistic about the future even though now things look so hopeless.
OSLO CONFERENCE ... Mark 2
The Sierra Leone-Norway Co-operation (SLNC) held a follow-up to the Oslo Peace Conference, in London, on Saturday 7 October to review conference resolutions and the means of their implementation. The SLNC was mandated to act as the secretariat for monitoring and recording the implementation of the resolutions. The meeting was facilitated by the Sierra Leone Network for Peace and Development.
The following letter was recently received by the Chairman of the Sierra Leone-Norway Cooperation, Mr F Banda Kulu-Davies, from the US State Department in Washington, D.C.
Dear Mr Davies
Let me thank you on behalf of Secretary of State Christopher for sending the text of the resolutions adopted at the International Conference on Peace in Sierra Leone. I assure you that we at the State Department are closely watching the current situation in Sierra Leone. I would like to commend you as well as other delegates involved with the International Conference on Peace for your diligent efforts on adopting strategies to curtail the violence in Sierra Leone. It is imperative that the violence end in your country so that the transitional political process and the return to democracy are not thwarted.
I applaud your efforts to bring about peace, and urge you to continue your efforts to bring the warring factions to the negotiating table. It is essential that some form of peaceful communication begin with the NPRC and the RUF, and I commend the role that you and other delegates from the conference have played to initiate such talks. I wish you continued success in your efforts.
With warmest regards
Joyce E Leader
Acting Director, Office of West African Affairs
Shocked beyond belief
I'm sure you've heard that the Executive Outcomes have
planted land mines in Kono ostensibly for the rebels, which is bad enough,
but we all know that their real aim is to protect their diamonds, which
we so generously offered to them on a plate. I honestly didn't think I'd
live to see such a day!
AgathaB MiahA typical thank-you letter
(A UK resident sent this letter to Focus so that readers can savour the desperation of the ordinary Sierra Leonean during the present crisis. Names have been replaced by alphabets to protect the parties)
Greetings in Jesus' precious name. Thank you for the money you sent for me. It came as we were in dire need to sustain our family. So it was with profound joy that my wife and children received it. We have now managed to purchase a bag of rice with it. We pray that God will bless you and your children as you have found it proper in your hearts to help God's servant during these deplorable conditions in Sierra Leone. I know that things are not easy with you people over there but whatever little you do to sustain our family is always appreciated.
My wife and I used to do part-time teaching which earned us some money but now the government says, because of this RUF rebel war, they have spent too much money on the war. So they have terminated the employment of all unqualified teachers, thus affecting me and my wife. We resorted to going to the nearby bush in search of wood to sell and make ends meet. The other day I met your brother when I went in search of cassava. He was well but he said he could do no farming this year because, like everyone else, he had to run away with, in his own case, absolutely nothing to wear.
Our home town is now completely deserted. Last month rebels went through it again and killed A, B, C, and D and his wife. They are people you know quite well. The rebels also went to the nearby village where our people had gone into hiding and killed a few more, seriously wounding Aunty E, the sister of Pa F. Teacher G and sister H were left alone and they both died of starvation. Those of us who survived rushed to Bo for safety although here, too, there is shortage of food because of frequent ambushes on the main highway. Prices have soared because all the food comes in by air.
We are even now working on a letter to you to help raise funds for your relatives who, sadly, have resorted to begging in the streets of this crowded city. They all sleep rough because they cannot afford the high cost of rent. Goodbye and may God bless you.
(Name and address supplied but withheld)Peace and Resettlement now ... Elections later
The return to civilian rule through the organisation of political parties and the subsequent holding of elections is a dream that every patriotic Sierra Leonean has prayed. However the real experience of our citizens for the past four years has resulted in them being increasingly disillusioned and concerned about their safety above all. Almost three-fourths of our population is presently living as refugees within and outside the country. This situation has warranted Sierra Leoneans to place 'peace in the country' as their highest priority above all the many problems facing the country.
While we commend the present military administration for their commitment to the re-introduction of multi-party democracy, their untimely call for elections when they have very little or no control over a greater area of the country has left us wondering whether this is in the interest of our displaced people.
Elections all over the world are conducted to give a chance to citizens to choose who should rule them. We believe that having elections in Sierra Leone now will be counter-productive. Our present leadership will end up choosing our leader instead of the electorate exercising its democratic right to choose. The people of Sierra Leone will ever live to honour our present leadership if and only if they first enable the many thousands of displaced people to return to their homes. Having elections now will not bring about peace; nor will it help people to return to their homes. Instead, it will lead to (a) strains in the solidarity and unity of the people resisting the rebels; (b) haphazard participation by the citizens in the election process; (c) partial representation of the people in the legislature; (d) a victory by the rebels over our defenceless civilian population and dedicated soldiers.
Our leaders owe us PEACE more than ELECTIONS. Their priority must therefore be to give us peace. This means RESETTLEMENT NOW AND ELECTIONS LATER.
Emmanuel M Kaikai
Movement For Peace and Resettlement, London SE15
I always read Focus with great interest and applaud it as the best source of news about Sierra Leone. One reason why the international community is treating our problem with levity is that people are not bold enough to expose the hopeless and useless government of the NPRC. They took power from the APC because of the latter's corruption and mishandling of the country's economy but they have done worse, using the guns to intimidate people into silence.
After thirty years of independence our hopes and dreams are yet to be realised because of a succession of incompetent administrations. Today's legacy is a continuing war, economic decay, disease, a new class of uneducated youth, almost universal unemployment especially, again, among young people, poverty, bad sanitation and rampant corruption.
Before 29 April 1992, we had six political parties duly registered to campaign for the pending presidential and general elections. Then on the morning of that day we had a bunch of military adventurists stepping in, un-elected and accountable to no one. They rule by military decrees and not by the rule of law. They hold secret trials conducted by special military tribunals. They carry out summary extra-judicial executions. I do not know about your readers, but I was very shocked to learn that for the first time in the country's history a woman was among 26 people executed for an unsubstantiated attempted coup.
A few days after they overthrew the APC regime, a spokesperson for the RUF announced through the BBC that the RUF was prepared to call a unilateral ceasefire in order to open doors for constructive negotiations. But Strasser, who had other ideas, went to see Babaginda in Nigeria and declared publicly that "we will not negotiate with bandits". History will prove that he was right because, today, some of those bandits are elements of the Sierra Leone army, of which he is the Supreme Commander. His decision not to negotiate with the RUF cannot be understood by Sierra Leoneans; nor the increased harassment and random killings, over the last two years, of innocent civilians suspected of "being in league with rebels". An estimated 15,000 civilians have lost their lives as a direct consequence of the war. They cannot all have been killed by RUF rebels. Let us call a spade a spade!
Let me end by expressing my disappointment that James Jonah is vowing to go ahead with his "elections now" campaign. I am convinced that this man is not a patriotic Sierra Leonean. Why would he be thinking of elections when he knows that 80% of his countrymen and women are under attack and that three-fourths of the country is not safe for travel? I believe he is adamant because he has no attachment to the land called Sierra Leone.
The NPRC should know that they are unpopular. Their days are numbered. By now they should be thinking of an interim administration comprised of civilians. That might just save them their skin.
Amsterdam Zuidoost, Netherlands
Amnesty International's report "Sierra Leone: Human Rights abuses in a war against civilians" was published in September. It gives a distressing catalogue of human rights abuses, deliberate and arbitrary killings, torture and vicious injury of unarmed civilians. The report shows that it has become increasingly difficult to attribute responsibility for abuses to either "side" ("rebel" or government soldiers), and indeed the document reports abuses by both.
Amnesty's report has been distributed to the media and hundreds of organisations in Sierra Leone and worldwide; it has been featured on the BBC's Focus on Africa and in some of the Sierra Leone press. Direct appeals have been made to members of the NPRC and RUF. Amnesty is lobbying the international community to bring pressure to bear to bring an end to human rights abuses, and to ensure that any political settlement to the armed conflict includes strong guarantees for human rights.
Amnesty is also urging its members to take up the case of 8 soldiers arrested in connection with an alleged coup attempt on 2 October. The soldiers are due to be court-martialled and face the death penalty. They have been denied visits from their families and it is not clear whether they have legal representation. Without proper representation and denied the right of appeal, there is a real fear that the "trials" will be rigged and these soldiers executed without mercy just to prove the macho image of the NPRC.
Amnesty does not ask anyone to condone serious crimes,
if that is what has been committed. But alleged offences, however serious,
must be investigated and tried according to international standards of
fairness and justice; right to representation, a fair trial and appeal.
PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED.....
Ambrose GandaWhither peace now?
With election fever devouring the body politic in Sierra Leone one needs to ask where this leaves the peace effort. We warned earlier that holding elections now was an unwarranted intrusion and bound to place the pursuit of peace on the back burner. We were right in so far as those less interested in peace than politics have proved the point. But of course the vast majority of ordinary Sierra Leoneans who have no personal interest in politics remain committed to the attainment of peace in our country. One must therefore formally commend the various peace groups in Sierra Leone and in the diaspora for their continued interest in seeking ways to bring the conflict in our country to a peaceful resolution.
It was in this spirit that I, as editor of this paper, after assurances that the RUF were not averse to having informal talks with me, seized the opportunity to fly out to meet and talk with them. As I understood it the RUF is clearly not ruling out peace talks that would lead to the ending of the present war. They say however they will not talk to the NPRC because they see them as usurpers without legitimacy or a democratic mandate to rule over Sierra Leone. This may be a negotiating stance because somehow they will have to talk, even if via mediators. But they assured me that they were prepared to talk to Sierra Leoneans who would listen to their own case. They were trying to establish a platform from which they too can air their own views because, as they said, "the NPRC had the upper hand in the propaganda war so far".
Despite all that has happened before and notwithstanding the fact that the war is continuing, we must continue to listen and hear what they have to say even though most of us have been hurt in more ways than one by their actions. Soon, they say, they will be out to tell their side of the story in the open.
We must wait for that event. Politicians should really now just stay out of it and not mar efforts that are being made. The stage is being set, albeit painstakingly. The recent hi-jacking by the Foreign Minister, Dr Alusine Fofannah, of the offer by the RUF to hold talks with a selected number of organisations must not be repeated. The matter should have been dealt with more sensitively rather than be used as a public relations exercise for the government. The offer was, as I understand it, made via the ICRC to those organisations which the RUF felt comfortable to talk to because, like all of us, they follow the activities and statements of every indigenous organisation across the country. They had found, in the selected organisations, people whom they believed to be genuine. They told me that, in order to gain political advantage, the NPRC scuppered their initiative. That is why, they said, they developed cold feet and have not followed it up since then.
Dr John Karefa-Smart who has yet to meet and talk to the RUF people in person, should start behaving like the elder statesman he has claimed to be. Using his very tenuous contacts with the RUF to further his own political objectives is undermining diligent peace efforts elsewhere which are taken place away from the limelight. His intervention, two weeks ago, on BBC Focus On Africa, with the suggestion that Corporal Foday Sankoh expects to be made into nothing more than "an honorary Paramount Chief" (presumably when Dr Smart became the President) was most unhelpful and absolutely ridiculous. That was careless talk and, in war time, it can kill.
The RUF too must appreciate that many of their compatriots
do not understand just what is happening to their country. People want
explanations about what is happening to their country, particularly the
RUF's part in the whole sorry saga of killings, brutality and anarchy which
have paralysed this once placid nation of ours. A heavy onus still lies
on them to make their position clear to the rest of their compatriots.
And it had better be good.
Killers in power?
Now he will ... now he won't
The poor man has a lot of hangers-on who know that when he leaves they will go with him. Many of them have done horrible things to others while they have been protected by their privileged positions of power. As I understand it, poor Captain Strasser is a prisoner of his close aides who feel he must stay the full course. They have held sway once too often but my sources tell me that this time the die has been cast. He will go sooner, they say, than the presidential elections in February next year. Huh!
One reason, I am told, for his decision is the disloyalty and frequent disagreements among members of the ruling council. He has been frequently humiliated and made to back pedal on a number of critical issues, even though his own inclination was towards the correct course of action, just in order to accommodate the hot heads. Strasser, I also hear, has never been against an interim government but others who do not want to hand over power to civilians stood their ground and refused to fall in with the idea. The INEC consultative conference was a compromise, middle-of-the-road solution to buy time. It remains to be seen what happens if at all the elections are held. It is for that reason why some, including US and UK diplomats, would prefer the captain to hang on and see the democratisation process through. They can't be sure with any of the others in the driving seat.
I don't know whether he should pitied or not but one thing
I know is that he has been an absolute disaster for Sierra Leone. The sooner
he vacates office the better it will be for the country.
Standards for leadership
Elections farce in the making
Mr Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya is interim Chairman
of the NUP - the National Unity Party - which, by popular acclaim,
is a front for the NPRC. He served as Foreign Minister under the outgoing
APC and then, briefly, under the NPRC who sacked him, they claimed, for
disloyalty and sabotage. Now, it seems, he has been forgiven and is the
Chairman of the party which everyone believes is sponsored by the NPRC.
He has been sporting two brand new mercedes benz cars in the Capital -
Nos: NB 34226 and NB 42287 (Info supplied for the benefit
of our Sierra Leone readers.) Recently Dumbuya was allegedly heard to say,
in a rather nonchalant fashion, that other parties could only claim to
be ahead of the NUP in the race if they were using the same road. Implications:
possible rigging of the elections or some such tactic that would frustrate
the democratic process if they appear not to be having their way. He recently
visited Port Loko in a helicopter gun ship. We have yet to be assured all
the other party leaders will be given the same facilities to go out on
Supping with the devil?
I listened to them attentively as they enunciated the ethos of their organisation without once referring to any notes. They were friendly and extraordinarily calm and composed. To me they were as normal as normal can be and logical in their thoughts.
Various thoughts went through my mind. Were these the people who, only a month ago, raided and destroyed my hometown, Serabu and killed some of my people, including friends I have known since I was a kid? Were they responsible for violating and destroying our family home? How, for example, would I deal with the story of our meeting in the next edition of Focus? I was thinking particularly about the capacity of some of my own compatriots to misinterpret and misrepresent my presence in the company of the RUF, forgetting that we are all in fact Sierra Leoneans - only that they are on the opposite side to them. Many who have tried to reach the RUF in the genuine hope of pursuing peace have been labelled as traitors and rebel sympathisers. That Focus had even dared to publish pictures of Foday Sankoh and twice carry interviews with RUF spokesmen was interpreted in some quarters as supping with the devil - a front for the RUF.
But these fears were swept aside as my colleagues and I were introduced to the two gentlemen and they in turn told us who they were and what had led them to take up the fight in the "people's name". We had a candid exchange of views as a result of which we are probably better informed about our respective standpoints. They were most affable. I had gone in quest for peace and I was not disappointed. There is still a long way to go but I am hopeful that peace will come sooner than later.
SIERRA LEONE NETWORK FOR PEACE AND DEVELOPMENT
The Network has been created against the backdrop of the
war and a genuine desire to harness the energies and resources of Sierra
Leoneans (individuals and organisations in Sierra Leone and abroad) in
finding constructive, lasting solutions to the conflict and its root causes.
The Network is independent, secular and non-partisan in its organisation,
operation and implementation of its objectives. Its working methods encourage
cooperation, support, and respect for members' views.