The Sierra Leone Web



BO (18 - 23 April 2000)


Mr. Vice President,
Honorable Members of the Government,
Conference Participants,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel deeply gratified to be invited by the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP) to this important conference at this crucial stage in the implementation of the peace process in Sierra Leone. I sincerely hope the conference will generate a breakthrough in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the combatants as well as reconciliation among the people of Sierra Leone. It gives me great pleasure to speak to you Commanders directly for the first time, and I must thank the Chairman of the CCP Rt. Lt. Col. Johnny Paul Koroma and his fellow Commissioners for providing us this opportunity.

For the past nine years the people of Sierra Leone have undergone untold suffering from a brutal civil conflict that has devastated the country, corrupted the social norms of its people, tarnished its image and earned it the lowest ranking in several indices of human development. It also has earned it the notoriety of registering one of the worst records of human right violations. These are the sad realities facing this country today, and you as stakeholders in the Lome Peace Peace Agreement have the obligation to address these issues with a view to restoring normalcy to this great country.

Last July, your leadership took a bold and brave step to bring the conflict in Sierra Leone to an end by signing the Lome Peace Agreement. In doing so, they demonstrated to Africa and the rest of the world a will to bring the suffering of all Sierra Leoneans to an end. They also demonstrated to the world a high level of political maturity and magnanimity that surprised many observers.

The Lome Peace Agreement contains the provision for the removal of the weapons of death and destruction from amidst the people through disarmament and demobilization. It goes further to offer a peaceful alternative means of livelihood by the reintegration of all combatants and paramilitary groups. It can be safely stated that on this most important provision of the Agreement rests the whole peace process; for without the removal of the weapons of violence and death from the combatants and their reintegration, there can be no lasting peace in Sierra Leone.

The Lome Agreement also stipulates that the disarmament should be carried out by a neutral peacekeeping force comprising UNAMSIL and ECOMOG. Such a requirement for a neutral force is understandable given the degree of distrust resulting from the bitter war. This is the rationale for the presence of UNAMSIL in this country, and since ECOMOG has now virtually totally withdrawn, the responsibility of performing this task has fallen solely on UNAMSIL.

As Head of UNAMSIL, I wish to assure every citizen of this country that peace-keepers will carry out their responsibilities strictly in accordance with the spirit of our mandate, and with the required degree of neutrality and professionalism.

In addition to the disarmament programme, the Security Council also mandated UNAMSIL to assist the Government of Sierra Leone and other parties to the Lome Agreement in the other areas of its implementation such as: monitor the adherence to the cease-fire; encourage the parties to create confidence-building mechanisms (such as this event) and support their functioning, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. This is a further demonstration of the international community's support for and goodwill towards Sierra Leone and its people.

As I have earlier indicated, DDR is a very important yardstick by which progress and success of the peace process will be measured. This is why Sierra Leoneans and the world at large are closely monitoring it. The overwhelming verdict at the present time is that the pace of disarmament is unsatisfactory.

It is now nine months since the signing of the Lome Peace Agreement and five months after the DDR programme was resuscitated; yet, only half the estimated number of combatants have disarmed. It is high time for the programme to pick up and for all the leaders to show commitment in action as in words.

In that connection, it is necessary to stress the important role that you as field commanders, have to play. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that you the commanders on the ground will make the DDR programme fail or succeed in the country. You are the people who channel information to the men and women who are still in the field. You are the people who have the direct contact with them. Therefore, your honesty in transmitting timely and correct information is crucial for the understanding and success of the DDR programme. Furthermore, the more you commanders develop mutual trust and mutual confidence amongst yourselves, the easier it will be to remove the current mistrust which is hampering the DDR programme.

I am glad that this workshop is to address the issue of the flow of information to enable you to obtain undiluted information on all pertinent issues relating to the peace process so that you can properly educate all your men/women on the ground. The workshop will also provide you with an opportunity to interact with your former opponents as a way of building confidence amongst you. These, I consider to be very useful and indispensable to the promotion not only of the DDR programme but of fostering the process of reconciliation and building lasting peace. Time, I must say, is not on your side. The patience as well as preparedness of the international community to provide the necessary assistance is not unlimited. You must move and move fast with the current of international attention to Sierra Leone.

Thank you