Sierra Leone: Time for a New Military and Political Strategy
Africa Report N°28
11 Apr 2001
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Sierra Leone is a human tragedy of massive proportions that is rapidly becoming a security nightmare for all West Africa. Two-thirds of Sierra Leone’s population are thought to have been displaced during the ten-year civil war. Another 600,000 have become refugees in neighbouring countries. The war is spilling over into Guinea, where heavy fighting since September 2000 threatens the collapse of the government and has already produced a massive, new refugee problem. In effect, Sierra Leone is now at the heart of a series of conflicts that risk forming an arc of violence from southern Senegal to the Ivory Coast.
ICG believes the international community needs to take a radically different approach to that in which it has engaged so far. There should be no further negotiations with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) other than for its complete disarmament and demobilisation. The RUF has blatantly used negotiations for the purpose of rearming. It has consistently shown bad faith in the string of agreements it has signed in Abidjan, Conakry, Lomé and Abuja. The RUF has no meaningful political constituency. Its main backer is Charles Taylor, the president of Liberia, who uses it as a proxy army to pursue his drive for regional hegemony: not for nothing is Taylor known widely as the Milosevic of West Africa. And, of course, the RUF has committed heinous atrocities qualifying as war crimes.
This report reaches the conclusion, stark, but we believe unavoidable - that the international community must help Sierra Leone take decisive military action against the RUF. There are two vital conditions.
First, it is urgent to harmonise the divergent approaches of the UK government, which is arming, retraining and re-equipping the Sierra Leone army (SLA) for a serious campaign, and the UN military mission (UNAMSIL), which is still trying to implement the compromise provisions of the Lomé agreement. The international community cannot run two or more strategies in Sierra Leone simultaneously. Working against each other with conflicting mandates will only fuel the conflict and invite warring factions to exploit differences. Achieving a common approach will require much diplomacy, especially with West African nations that are hesitant about a muscular policy in which a former colonial power takes a prominent role.
Those in the RUF who refuse to demobilise should be defeated militarily. The military option could be spearheaded by UK trained and led Sierra Leone armed forces, with UNAMSIL securing the areas regained. The UK should provide military and intelligence backup to guarantee the safety of UN forces. The Civil Defence Force (CDF) could provide additional security for local villages and settlements.
Secondly, military action must be co-ordinated with a coherent political strategy accepted by all the key international actors and the Sierra Leone government. This will involve some form of UN-endorsed commitment to an international effort that may need to last five years or more, in order to help Sierra Leone re-establish good governance and reconstruct its shattered society. Without such a political effort, even military victory over the RUF would be pointless since the resulting power-vacuum would soon be filled by more violence from government and pro-government forces, new rebels and predatory neighbours.
The specific recommendations that follow will be difficult to implement. If the international community does not make a substantial commitment to help Sierra Leone resolve both its military and political problems now, however, it is all too easy to foresee the contagion of violence spreading out of control in West Africa much as has happened in Central Africa.
To the UN Security Council:
Abandon the Lomé Agreement and make no further deals with the RUF.
Call for immediate surrender of the RUF and, against those who refuse, support the threat and eventual use of military force by the Sierra Leone army, supported by the UK.
Give UNAMSIL a tougher mandate to occupy and protect areas liberated by the SLA and harmonise its objectives with the UK and with West African heads of state.
Impose targeted sanctions on Charles Taylor’s regime in Liberia - involving visa restrictions, freezing of bank accounts and the like - in order to persuade it to end its support for the RUF.
Provide adequate financing so that the Special Court established under UN Security Council Resolution 1315 of August 2000 can begin to investigate and prosecute those responsible for war crimes and a Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission can start operations.
Support Demobilisation and Reintegration Programs for RUF and government militia (CDF) combatants.
Commit to a continuing international role in Sierra Leone, which may need to last five or more years, to assist the Sierra Leone government constitute a more reliable army, re-establish good governance, and restore its shattered society.
Freetown/Brussels/London, 11 April 2001