The Sierra Leone Web




I am delighted to be here this morning to officially open this first training workshop for political parties organised by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy using funding primarily provided from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

This event marks another key point in Britain's support for the democratic process and institutions in Sierra Leone. The presence here of representatives from so many political parties from government and opposition gives a clear signal that our support is in way biased. It is for the people of Sierra Leone to decide for themselves at the forthcoming elections who they wish to represent them. We will respect that decision.

Invitations for this training programme have also been issued to the RUF (P) we welcome them and sincerely hope that they will remain committed to the peace process and will actively participate in the democratic process. The horrors of the last ten years of war in Sierra Leone have benefited no one. The time has now come to put the war behind us and to seek to build a peaceful and prosperous Sierra Leone where the wealth of the nation is used for the benefit of all of the country’s citizens.

I visited Koidu earlier in the week with the presidents of Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mali. The destruction of what was a prosperous and thriving town and community clearly shows the scale of the destruction the war has caused in this country. The fact that such a meeting has taken place in Koidu, with the RUF leadership, is a clear indication of the progress made towards peace and the desire of all Sierra Leoneans to move towards reconciliation.

From a political perspective it is essential that Sierra Leone develops a political class willing to serve the people of this country and not just narrow self interests. Another key to a stable future for Sierra Leone is to involve all in society in the political process. To single out two groups, although I am pleased to see that they are both well represented here today, I would mention women who in some areas of the country have felt disenfranchised, and secondly the youth. Part of the cause of the civil war was the disadvantaged young people who saw no hope for the future. This also resulted in the exodus of a whole generation or two leaving a massive skills gap. But it is no good young people complaining about what they call tired politicians who they sometimes see as an irrelevance. They must themselves become involved. The older generation must themselves encourage this process and accept at times the impatience of youth.

These problems can be solved. We will help. But at the end of the day it is for Sierra Leoneans themselves to solve their own problems.

Might I just take the opportunity to cover two other political points?

There have been a number of press reports in recent weeks that the British are holding Corporal Foday Sankoh. Could I once and for all lay this one to rest. We at no time have ever held Corporal Sankoh. He has at all times been in the custody of the government of Sierra Leone where he remains today.

Secondly, there have been dramatic headlines over the past few days about a withdrawal of British troops from Sierra Leone.

The short term training teams, at the Benguema training facility, have been a great success and the final training team will complete its task by September 2001. This, as you know, has been a very successful programme; it has left the Sierra Leone armed forces in a much stronger position. We will continue to have a substantial military presence here in sierra leone numbering 360 personnel, our commitment to Sierra Leone remains strong.

I wish you all well over the coming weeks, they will be informative and enjoyable workshops and in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy you have a thoroughly professional group of trainers at your disposal.

Good luck to you all.