The Sierra Leone Web




JUNE 11, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, good afternoon. We have entered a very critical period in Sierra Leone and I welcome this opportunity to brief this distinguished Committee on developments in that country.


The celebratory shouts that marked the return of Sierra Leone's democratically elected President, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, in early March of this year have been drowned by the screams and cries of victims of the atrocities committed by the remnants of the former Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)/Revolutionary United Front (RUF) junta.

A humanitarian crisis is looming in Sierra Leone because of the ruthlessness of the former junta. In a cynical attempt to avoid disarmament and demobilization while it attempts to regain control of Sierra Leone's rich diamond fields, the RUF has embarked on "Operation No Living Thing." This campaign of terror has visited untold suffering on the people of Sierra Leone.

A small five year-old boy emerged as the lone survivor of his small village after the RUF threw him and 60 other villagers into a human bonfire. Hundreds of civilians have escaped to Freetown with arms, feet, hands, and ears amputated by the rebels. These victims tell of thousands of others perishing in the bush, unable to reach medical facilities. Koidu, a city of approximately 70,000, is gone. Its inhabitants have scattered, many presumably mutilated or killed, and every building has been razed. Dozens of other towns and villages have been obliterated. Refugees are streaming into already overcrowded camps in Guinea and Liberia to escape the RUF. Since February, over 237,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have fled their country to seek safety.

Due to the chaos, we cannot tell exactly how many terrified civilians are hiding in Sierra Leone's dense forests. We believe that there may be thousands of unattended children trying to make it on their own. Even more troubling is that the RUF and remnants of the AFRC appear to be infiltrating areas previously secured by ECOMOG in order to spread their campaign of horror. I could go on, Mr. Chairman, with one account of tragedy after another.

The RUF has no political support or identifiable constituency.  This gang-like outfit has no clear leadership structure and even murkier political aims, save for greed and the sheer quest for power. It has refused repeated invitations to give up violence and join the political process, knowing that it would not gain much voluntary support. To build its fighting force, the RUF kidnaps of young children from their villages, often after forcing them to brutalize or murder their own families. The RUF drugs these children on cocaine, amphetamines, and marijuana and then sends them out to fight their dirty war.

The brutality authored by the RUF is political terror at its worst. It deserves the strongest of condemnations from the international community and friends of Sierra Leone. The international community must act swiftly and with sufficient resources to help end these atrocities and alleviate the human suffering. The United States must play its part in this effort.


A long history of coups and corrupt one-party and military governments have left the Sierra Leonean body politic ailing and paralytic. The structures of government collapsed long ago. The nation slowly disintegrated. The RUF first entered Sierra Leone in 1991, crossing over the border from Liberia. It was a small force made up of Sierra Leonean exiles, plus Burkinabe and Liberian mercenaries. Its announced program was to overthrow the corrupt All People's Congress (APC) one-party regime of Major-General Joseph Momoh. However, the credibility of its program was severely compromised by its tactics of terror and looting.

In 1992, a popular military coup removed the APC regime.  Offers by the new National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) government of amnesty and a cease-fire were ignored by the RUF and fighting continued. The NPRC became corrupted as well and the Sierra Leone Army concentrated more on looting villages than fighting the RUF. By 1995, the RUF had control of the major diamond mining areas and was on the outskirts of the capital, Freetown. In desperation, the NPRC hired the mercenary firm Executive Outcomes. Within a few weeks, E.O. pushed the RUF back into its base camps and restored security to most of Sierra Leone.

At this point, Sierra Leonean civil society -- particularly Sierra Leonean women -- stood up to the NPRC and demanded elections. Despite harassment by the military, and RUF attacks against voters, the people turned out en masse to participate in the first free and fair elections in three decades. They chose Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who had recently returned to Sierra Leone after 20 years with the United Nations. He was inaugurated as President in March 1996 and named a Cabinet that included representatives from all the major political parties and ethnic groups.

We hoped that installation of the first democratic civilian government in roughly thirty years would begin national political reconciliation, economic reconstruction, and signal the end of the senseless civil conflict. The vast majority of Sierra Leoneans welcomed the Kabbah government's efforts to reestablish peace throughout the country. He negotiated a Peace Accord with the RUF which was signed in Abidjan in November 1996. As one condition of the agreement, President Kabbah canceled the Government's contract with Executive Outcomes. Flouting the will of their own people, the RUF resumed guerrilla warfare and acts of terror aimed at securing control of Sierra Leone's vast diamond wealth.

Then on May 25, 1997, a group of junior military officers, who styled themselves the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, (AFRC) overthrew the Kabbah Government. The AFRC suspended the constitution, banned political activity and public meetings, and invited the RUF to join their junta. The junta killed, tortured, and arbitrarily detained anyone they perceived threatening their hold on power. Civil and political freedoms were muzzled. AFRC and RUF brigands stole and looted at will.

World opinion resounded against the coup. The United States, joining the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the United Nations (UN), and the rest of the international community. The OAU authorized ECOWAS to take the steps necessary to restore the elected government. From the onset, the United States advocated a negotiated return of the Kabbah Government. This policy was predicated on the desire to restore democracy without inflicting additional suffering on the already hard-pressed Sierra Leonean people.

The West African region and the international community began concerted action to restore the legitimate government. ECOWAS established the Committee of Four, comprised of Cote D'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Nigeria, to negotiate with the AFRC/RUF. (After the Liberian elections, Liberia joined the ECOWAS team, now the Committee of Five (C-5).) In response to junta intransigence at the negotiating table, the August 1997 ECOWAS Summit adopted a sanctions package and authorized ECOMOG to enforce a blockage to pressure the junta. Nigeria and Guinea, which already had troops in Sierra Leone both under bilateral security agreements with the Kabbah Government and to support ECOMOG operations in Liberia, deployed additional troops. To further increase pressure on the junta the UN Security Council on October 8, 1997 adopted its own targeted sanctions against the junta and authorized ECOWAS to enforce them.

As a result of the increased pressure, AFRC/RUF representatives and C-5 Foreign Ministers met in Conakry, Guinea, on October 23, 1997, to sign an agreement establishing a cease-fire and a six-month timetable for reinstallation of President Kabbah. The Conakry Accord also provided for ECOMOG supervised disarmament of combatants and verification of the cease-fire and disarmament by UN military observers. Although an encouraging step, the Accord was only a broad framework that required detailed negotiations and sustained goodwill to make it work.

The junta dashed initial optimism when it again became recalcitrant, resorting to hectoring and tabling inconsistent new demands in an attempt to thwart implementation of the framework agreement. As the junta delayed and obfuscated, tensions mounted within Sierra Leone. The cease-fire disintegrated due to recurrent probes by junta forces against the regional peacekeepers. This escalation culminated in late February. In reaction to a junta attack against its soldiers, the peacekeepers took action to oust the junta. Successfully dislodging the junta from Freetown and other parts of the country, ECOMOG pushed the coupists into the RUF's traditional redoubt in the northeast. The UN commended ECOWAS and ECOMOG for their role in restoring peace and security to Sierra Leone. In the past several weeks, ECOMOG efforts have slowed due to logistic and manpower shortages and tougher than expected resistance by remnants of the junta. Rebel fighters have regrouped and are being aided by former NPFL and ULIMO from Liberia.

Essentially, Sierra Leone has returned to the status quo that existed before the May 25 coup, except for one fundamental difference -- the violent severity of RUF misanthropy. These wanton atrocities have galvanized the citizens against the former junta and heightened support for the Kabbah Government more than ever before.


The United States has important interests in Sierra Leone.  First, there is the inescapable, compelling moral imperative to respond to the humanitarian situation. Second, we have an interest in promoting West African regional security. The trouble in Sierra Leone threatens Guinea as well as the hard won peace and stability in Liberia. Third, Sierra Leone is an important test of our commitment to democracy in Africa. For the first time, all African nations, including Nigeria, have publicly condemned a military coup in the region. Lack of support for the democratic Kabbah Government would be viewed throughout the continent as lack of genuine U.S. commitment to democracy in Africa. Fourth, the benefits of a stable Sierra Leone are tangible in terms of an export market and direct U.S. investment in raw mineral resources, including diamonds and rutile, both of which the country has in vast abundance.

Although a former British colony, Sierra Leone has a clear cultural and historic nexus with the United States. The first slaves in North America were brought from Sierra Leone to the South Carolina coast in 1522. Significant numbers of captives that came to the United States passed through slave forts that once dotted the Sierra Leonean coastline. Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital, was founded in 1792 as the Province of Freedom by freed slaves from the United States.

In the contemporary era, Sierra Leone has been a steadfast friend of the U.S. Its sons fought along side Allied forces in both World Wars. Continuing that tradition and responding to our request, Sierra Leone sent a contingent to participate in Operation Desert Storm.

The Administration has three major policy objectives in Sierra Leone: (1) to prevent the humanitarian situation from degenerating into an unmanageable large-scale crisis, (2) to enhance ECOMOG's ability to provide security for civilians and the Kabbah government, and (3) to encourage and support establishment of a durable peace, including national reconciliation as well as disarmament and demobilization of combatants.

Regarding humanitarian assistance, the United States is Sierra Leone's largest bilateral donor. We are providing over $50 million in humanitarian assistance during Fiscal Year 1998. We are increasing our emergency assistance to meet the needs caused by the junta's terror. USAID's Food for Peace program is providing 49,570 metric tons of food assistance, valued at $34.5 million for refugees, internally displaced persons, and other vulnerable groups. USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has provided $6.8 million for emergency relief and will fund a helicopter to airlift mutilation victims to medical facilities.  The Department of Defense will airlift urgently needed medical supplies and is exploring the deployment of medical personnel to treat mutilation victims. We are examining ways to bring surgeons, therapists and prostheses to help people begin the process of recovery. President Clinton recently approved a drawdown of Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) funds to enable us to contribute to the care of the new refugees and displaced persons.

To enhance ECOMOG capabilities, we have obligated $3.9 million in Peacekeeping Operations Funds to provide non-lethal logistical support to the West African peacekeepers. These funds will provide radio equipment and transport, including helicopter lift, to improve ECOMOG's mobility and communications. Some of the equipment will be transferred from our support of ECOMOG in Liberia to Sierra Leone.

We will fund conflict resolution programs that encourage dialogue among all sectors of Sierra Leonean society. This dialogue is critical to the development of democratic institutions on which long-term stability must be established. Additionally, we will help fund disarmament and demobilization programs for combatants, including trauma counseling for the large numbers of child soldiers.

Some observers have raised the question of negotiations with the RUF. We do not preclude any possible option that might lead to peace. ECOWAS, with the support of the international community, must explore every political avenue and determine the best way to proceed. However, we find it difficult to envision talks with the RUF and former junta leadership until they unambiguously and honestly renounce the systematic carnage and widespread human rights violations they have visited on their country.


While ECOWAS has the leading diplomatic role and ECOMOG is the peacekeeping/security force in Sierra Leone, the region cannot establish peace alone. The international community must be prepared to help. In this regard, the United Kingdom has offered to take the primary lead in generating additional donor support, especially among European Union and Commonwealth countries. A major issue is providing additional support for ECOMOG. ECOMOG has approximately 10,000 troops in Sierra Leone. It estimates another 6-8,000 peacekeepers are needed to have sufficient strength and territorial coverage to provide security and implement disarmament. At the May ECOWAS Chiefs of Defense Staff meeting in Accra, several ECOWAS member-states pledged additional troops, conditioned on receiving donor support to deploy and sustain these contingents. We will be teaming with the British to garner other donor support for these potential troop contributing countries. The British have also pledged £2 million to support ECOMOG. As in Liberia, support for ECOMOG in Sierra Leone promises to be an efficient, cost-effective peacekeeping operation.


We hope the UN will play a similar complementary role to ECOWAS/ECOMOG in Sierra Leone as it did in Liberia. In a series of resolutions, the latest being adopted June 5, the Security Council has condemned the junta and the atrocities it is committing; instituted sanctions, including an arms embargo; and has encouraged the international community to provide support to ECOMOG. Along with the British, we are encouraging the UN to increase international attention on the crisis and to improve coordination of humanitarian assistance. The UN is currently planning a Special Political Conference on Sierra Leone to focus attention on ECOMOG's needs, the humanitarian situation and the requirements for an effective disarmament and demobilization program.

In early May the United Nations sent eight military liaison and security advisory personnel to Sierra Leone to coordinate with ECOMOG and the Government of Sierra Leone, report on the military situation, and assist ECOMOG in planning for disarmament. As a result of their work, in Secretary General Annan's June 9 report to the Security Council, he proposed a small U.N. Observer Mission with an initial six-month mandate. The mission would have 70 officers and a medical unit of up to 15 persons, with the first group of 40 to be deployed in July. It would report on the military and security situation and monitor respect for international humanitarian law. It would also verify disarmament and monitor the demobilization of former combatants. We are carefully evaluating the Secretary General's recommendations.


Finally, Mr. Chairman, we acknowledge the work and sacrifices of ECOWAS and ECOMOG in Sierra Leone. Their efforts have prevented the country from descending into near complete chaos.  While the process will be difficult, peace in Sierra Leone is attainable. The West African region, the international community, and most of all the people of Sierra Leone want peace. We will continue to participate in international efforts to further peace in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Members of the Committee, I thank you for your attention and for holding this hearing. I would be pleased to answer any questions you might have.