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Ladies and gentlemen, during our last meeting, I informed you about the desire of the AFRC to have constant briefing with you as a way of improving on our existing relationship, and also a measure of strengthening the effort of the AFRC towards the attainment of lasting peace in Sierra Leone. This press briefing is one in that series.

I have every hope that with the New Year, you are all fresh in your minds and resolved for objective reporting at a time when the bites of sanctions can provide enough room for you to be lured by politicians for their own selfish gains. With these few remarks I would want to state that the main thrust of this briefing is the Conakry Peace Plan - the way forward, from the AFRC point of view.


The cardinal elements of the plan are:

  • immediate cessation of hostilities;
  • Ex-President Kabba to lead a broadly based government by April 22, 1998;
  • provision of humanitarian assistance;
  • disarmament, demobilization and re-integration of combatants;
  • the release of Corporal Foday Saybannah Sankoh;

These are the key elements of the Conakry Peace Plan, designed to enhance a peaceful and smooth transfer of power to ex-President Tejan Kabbah; come April 22, 1998. Several measures were put in place as confidence building process between the AFRC, ECOMOG and the rest of the international community.

A quick review of these key elements shows that much has not been achieved owing to many reasons. In the first place, the plan stipulates without any pre-conditions that arrangements for the flow of humanitarian assistance was to start on November 14, 1997. The ECOWAS Committee of Five seems to be handling this with the international agencies based in Conakry, Guinea, completely isolating the AFRC. No progress has therefore been made here on the ground.

As part of the confidence-building process, the ECOWAS Committee of Five was to visit Sierra Leone on the 20th November last year. It is regrettable to note that this committee has never come to assess situation on the ground since the AFRC came into power on 25th May, 1997. Rather decisions taken by this committee have been largely based on false and exaggerated information provided by Kabbah and his team, based hundreds and thousands of miles away in Guinea and the USA, notably James Jonah and John Leigh.

Regarding hostilities, there seemed to have been relative peace up till the end of November, 1997. The highways, which before 25th May, 1997, were death traps, were safe until in December, 1997 when Hinga Norman in concert with Tejan Kabba declared the dastardly Operation Black December, whereby everyone working for a living in Sierra Leone was declared a target.

The Conakry Plan also provides for disarmament, demobilization and re-integration. These activities were to have started on 1st December, 1997, but have not started due to three grey areas that needed further discussion with ECOWAS committee of Five and subsequently member states of ECOWAS. No efforts have been made to address these issues.

Another issue that has been deliberately ignored by the ECOWAS committee of five is that of demobilization and re-integration. ECOMOG only talks about disarmament and there seems to be no plan for demobilization and re-integration, much against the tenet of the Peace Plan. To disarm and leave the ex-combatants for weeks without effective training programmes for alternative and respectable skills for gainful employment, will be suicidal for lasting peace in this country. While UNDP Elizabeth Lwanga based in Guinea is aware of this, she has with-held the UN demobilization and reintegration programme for Sierra Leone in Guinea. Again, there is no such provision in the Conakry Peace Plan to withhold these programmes at any point in time.

The Plan again provides for the release of Corporal Foday Sankoh to enhance the Peace Process. Although no time frame is stipulated in the Plan for this event, it is logical that the attainment of peace, being a dynamic process, requires the immediate release of Corporal Foday Sankoh. This would facilitate the process right at its formative stage of disarmament, rather than at the stage of the formation of the broad-based government. Without the release of Corporal Sankoh, the disarmament process might face serious hurdles thus negating the good intents of those accords reached in his absence.

The Plan has the cardinal element of the formation of a broadly based government. For this exercise to effectively reflect a positive political climate, it must involve all registered political parties that had been suspended, MPs, the RUF, and the AFRC.

ECOWAS must be seen to be facilitating this process if the objective of lasting peace reflecting all interest and shades of opinion is to be achieved. ECOWAS Five committee has taken no action on this thus far. As a way of having a monitoring mechanism, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Anan, sent a Special Envoy to assist in the search for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The role of this Special Envoy, Mr. Francis Okello was further buttressed in Article 4 of UN Resolution 1132 on Sierra Leone. Mr. Okello has been in the sub-region for nearly four months now. He is based in Conakry, Guinea and compiles his report on Sierra Leone based on false rumours provided by Alhaji Tejan Kabbah and his militia group that are causing destruction, particularly in the South Eastern parts of the country. Okello made a hurried one day visit (without spending a night in Sierra Leone) to Freetown. Now Okello wants to justify that he is in Sierra Leone by informing the AFRC that he would want to be based in Lungi, an area under the Nigeria-led ECOMOG occupation. How genuine is Okello?


i) The AFRC Stance

Since the signing of the Conakry Peace Plan in October last year, many of our detractors including some of you ladies and gentlemen, have blamed the AFRC for the slow implementation of the Plan. They have failed to think over AFRC concerns as pivotal issues contained in the Peace Plan.

AFRC had raised three key issues of concern:

  • the immediate release of Corporal Foday Sankoh, by General Sani Abacha of Nigeria to join the peace process;
  • the non-disarmament of the Sierra Leone Army;
  • and the dominant and clearly biased role played by the Nigeria led ECOMOG.

I am sure one question that immediately comes to mind is whether these issues were not raised at the October (22-23, 1997) Conakry Meeting. Frankly, these were contentious issues raised in Conakry. We insisted on ECOWAS committee of Five to clarify them, but time was not in our favour and therefore settled at the consensus that they be settled by ECOWAS. For us not to return without signing the Peace Plan, thereby sending the wrong signals to our people, that is the people of Sierra Leone and the international community we conceded with the hope that amicable solution would be reached. When the ECOWAS summit was called in Togo in December, 1997, it was our hope that these grey areas would be addressed. But through Nigeria's machinations, Tom Ikimi, Nigeria's Foreign Minister, and Chairman of ECOWAS committee of Five threatened the AFRC with arrests if its representatives were to attend the meeting. However, Ikimi invited Kabba's representatives.

Ladies and gentlemen, do we want Corporal Foday Sankoh to join the peace process at the end? How practically logical and feasible will the peace plan hold, now that RUF knows that ECOMOG can facilitate Kabbah's return as was demonstrated by his one day visit to Lungi, but Corporal Foday Sankoh can be continuously held by Nigeria? As a dynamic process, how confident are we that RUF will disarm and equilibrium will hold if Corporal Foday Sankoh joins at the end.

The other issue of concern has been the non-disarmament of the Sierra Leone Army. ECOMOG wants to use the Liberia solution to address our problem here in Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone case is different as our Army, unlike that of the Army of Liberia, then, is still intact and cohesive culturally, tribally and regionally. What, of course, is clear in all our presentations is the need to restructure the Army in line with the November, 1996, Abidjan Peace Accord.

Our third concern has been the domineering role of the Nigerian contingent in ECOMOG. Without the approval of ECOWAS and the UN Security Council, the Nigerians started bombarding our territory on June 2, 1997 and this continued with the classical case of the destruction of the Defence Headquarters on October 8, 1997, the same day that the Security Council was discussing the Sanctions that imposed Resolution 1132 on Sierra Leone. This raised international concern as Sir John Weston, the British Envoy to the United Nations and a British Lord, Lord Avesbury questioned the authority on whose basis Nigeria was bombing Sierra Leone.

While the Nigerians have provided security for the pro-Kabbah private radio station, plans are again afoot for a nationwide broadcast short wave system to be provided by Nigeria to Kabbah so as to continuously incite trouble in the country much against the Peace Plan.

We have also adequate and reliable information that the Nigerians are forcefully conscripting poor villagers to undertake military training in the Lungi area.

Ladies and gentlemen, without any political bias and for the successful implementation of the Peace Plan are these not critical issues to the successful implementation of the Peace Plan.

ii) Blaming ECOWAS, ECOMOG and the International Community

Article 6 of UN Security Council Resolution on Sierra Leone, UN Resolution 1132 clearly identifies the goods prohibited to be imported into Sierra Leone under the current sanction. These include, petroleum and petroleum products and arms and ammunition. There is no prohibition on the import or export of goods. Article 5 of the same resolution bans AFRC members and adult members of our families from travelling outside Sierra Leone. Article 14 talks about the provision of humanitarian assistance. In their respective comments on the UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Sierra Leone, on 8th October, 1997, Ambassadors Bill Richardson of the United States and Hisashi Owada of Japan expressed concern over the impact of sanction on the poor and vulnerable civil population as follows:

Ambassador Bill Richardson stated:-

"The resolution does not limit shipments of food or medicines or other necessities. It contains provision for regular review of the implementation and impact of the sanctions...The sanctions are impose a minimum burden on the civilian population".

whilst Ambassador Hisashi Owada stated:-

"... Japan is acutely aware of the possibility that sanctions restricting the sale and supply of petroleum and petroleum products may cause further hardships to the people of Sierra Leone. The draft resolution addresses this point in two ways, namely, first by requesting that appropriate exceptions be made for humanitarian reasons and second, by calling upon ECOWAS, the various agencies of the United Nations and other organisations to endeavour to make appropriate arrangements for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. It is hoped that through the implementation of these provisions the negative impact of the sanctions on the civilian population will be kept to minimum".

Article 14 of UN Security Council Resolution 1132 on Sierra Leone "requests all those concerned, including ECOWAS, the United Nations and other international agencies, to establish appropriate arrangements for the provision of humanitarian assistance and to endeavour to ensure that each assistance responds to local needs, and is safely delivered to, and used by, its intended recipients".

With all these and many other concerns, the committee set up by ECOWAS Five to address humanitarian assistance is based in Guinea, undertaking planning activities with no reference to all the efforts of local NGOs and other civic organisations that have been on the ground since May 25, 1997, when the international organisations left the country. Thus what we shall eventually see may be humanitarian assistance programme directed by Kabbah and his followers to the exclusion of the very poor majority, most of whom are within the country facing deteriorating humanitarian crisis.

The UN and the rest of the international community have not raised a finger against the Nigeria-led ECOMOG blockade imposed on this country for the importation of basic food items and medical facilities, contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 1132, imposing sanctions on Sierra Leone. Can the UN allow the "Old Boys Club" of Jonah and Kabbah in league with Kofi Anan to down play the welfare of the poor people of this country, if only to restore Kabbah as President? Okello sits far away in Guinea and now wants to come to Lungi to continue to dance to Kabbah's tune.

ECOMOG continues to bombard Sierra Leone and corroborate with the Kamajohs as was the case when ECOMOG facilitated Tejan Kabbah's visit to Lungi to LAUNCH a dastardly operation for the elimination of all persons working for a living in the Sierra Leone - dubbed - Operation Black December and headed by Hinga Norman. Can we therefore consider the Nigeria dominated ECOMOG to be a neutral force or part and parcel of the conflict?

All concerned must therefore have a re-think on these issues in the pursuant of a solution for lasting peace. The international community must not be fooled by the pseudo- concept of democracy in Sierra Leone, which election took place at a time when over 50% of the country was under arm struggle and therefore disenfranchised.

iii) Misunderstanding the AFRC Chairman's Statement in a BBC Interview

Ladies and gentlemen, with all these apprehensions and slow effort of ECOWAS Five to implement other elements of the Conakry Peace Plan, the Chairman of the AFRC therefore made it clear that if all the issues are to be addressed, then the deadline of April 22, 1998 might not be met for handing over. For us to meet this deadline, all concerned must work harder conscientiously.

However, to the horror of many, few days after these comments by the AFRC Chairman, other than seen them as realistic and a reschedule of the timetable to ensure that the deadline is met, Hinga Norman led series of attacks in the infamous Black December Operations. This has led to many killings on the highways and clearly orchestrated to sabotage the Conakry Peace Plan. Yet the whole world and some of you are quiet about it.

iv) Negative Publicity

While I appreciate that the sanctions are biting, I have observed over the period that many of you have been bought over at given values to remain blind about the realities. This too has delayed the implementation of the Peace Plan.

There are many good things about the AFRC that are hardly positively mentioned by some of you and the International press. These include amongst others: the removal of RUF from the bush which period brought us sigh of relief at least on the highways until Hinga Norman's Operation Black December; the continuous provision of basic necessities like fuel, rice, electricity, until recently, when the sanctions have bitten harder; reopening schools even in Freetown except for the orchestrated threats from ECOMOG which have hampered schooling further. Mind you, ladies and gentlemen, the children of those politicians who are misdirecting you are in educational institutions sponsored by UNDP in Conakry, while others are elsewhere in Africa, Europe and the United States.

I am not to state however, that everything is perfect about the AFRC, but you must report objectively on the peace process if we are to attain lasting peace in the shortest possible time.

v) Foreign Mercenaries

We are reliably informed that some foreigners have teamed up with Alhaji Kabbah to hire mercenaries in return for diamonds from the Kono and Tongo areas. Arms and ammunition have already been shipped but the team is having problems as to where to dock the arms and ammunition.

vi) Attempt to keep a wedge within the AFRC

Evidence exists that Alhaji Kabbah and his agents have made several attempts to split the AFRC through, initially, the RUF and later on, the other ranks of the Sierra Leone Army. We are happy to note that these attempts failed. However, this in itself cannot augur well for the Peace Plan.


Notwithstanding the above problems that have contributed to the delay, the AFRC Government is still committed to the Peaceful and successful implementation of the Conakry Peace Plan within the stipulated time frame and to ensure that power is handed over back to ousted President Kabbah by April 22, 1998.

To this end, the following measures are suggested to ECOWAS through the ECOWAS Committee of Five.

  • Immediate Cessation of hostilities, particularly an end to the pro-Kabbah Operation Black December.
  • Re-location of UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy Francis Okello in Freetown from Conakry and not to be-located in Lungi
  • ECOWAS summit to immediately convene and consider the concern of AFRC on the release of Corporal Foday Sankoh; non-disarmament of the Sierra Leone Army but rather a programme of restructuring the Army be developed.
  • Review the dominant role of Nigerian contingent in the ECOMOG and their negative activities and impact on the Peace Plan as contained in this briefing;

In order to ensure that the key elements of humanitarian assistance; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration; and the formation of a broad based government, as contained in the Conakry Peace Plan, are adequately and professionally addressed, reflecting local needs for lasting peace, immediate action must be initiated by ECOWAS Committee of Five for the formation of the following committees, each to be chaired by a member of the ECOWAS Committee of Five:

  • Committee on disarmament, demobilization and re-integration of ex-combatants;
  • Committee on the coordination of humanitarian assistance;
  • Committee on the formation of the broad based government;
  • Committee for the coordination of all the above activities.

Membership on these Committees must reflect the political and technical requirements. These Committees must work out the broad modalities that will ensure a peaceful and smooth transfer of power. It is hoped that previous efforts by the ECOWAS Committee of Five, which were designed without AFRC inputs, be revisited to reflect the concerns raised herein.

To overcome the loss of time, membership must not overlap so as to work concurrently in order to meet the deadline of April 22, 1998. It is hoped that the UN and the rest of the international community will give every support in terms of resources for the effective and quick implementation of the Conakry Peace Plan.

In conclusion, the AFRC wishes to welcome the appointment of the new ECOMOG Field Commander General Timothy Chalpidi, whom we hope, will thoroughly study the situation on the ground and assist us in the search and consolidation of lasting peace not only in Sierra Leone but in the sub-region.

We strongly believe that the UN Secretary-General will include the concerns raised herein in his next regular report to be submitted to the UN Security Council as required by Article 16 of the UN Security Council Resolution 1132 on Sierra Leone.