The Sierra Leone Web




Fellow Citizens,

It is now one month since rebels entered our capital city and perpetrated the most heinous barbarity that has become the hallmark of the RUF and its allies. Since then, ECOMOG, Civil Defence and other loyal forces have succeeded in driving them out of the city, even though, unfortunately, at a rather high cost to civilian lives and property. I cannot help but express once again my heartfelt sympathy to all those who lost family members or friends during this dark period in our history. I can now assure you, with absolute confidence, that ECOMOG, civil and other defence forces are on top of the situation.

Let me reassure you that while the security and protection of our citizens have been and continue to be our primary concern, especially during the past few weeks, Government has never, ever abandoned the search for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. We know that there were those who were so traumatised by the rebel offensive that all they wanted was for us to surrender. There were others who thought that as soon as the invaders entered Freetown, Government should have negotiated a settlement with them, at all costs. Let me say that if we had given up, at that time, the consequences would have been far worse for us all than what we experienced during those awful days of January 1999.

The rebels and their allies did not enter Freetown to negotiate, or to engage in dialogue. They did not invade the city to merely threaten the population. On the contrary, they came with fire, grenades, guns and cutlasses. Their ultimate objective was to shoot their way to power. That is, to kill, maim, rape and amputate as many people as possible; to burn down as many private and public buildings as they possibly can, and then take over the seat of Government. You will agree with me that under those circumstances we made the right decision; first and foremost, to defend ourselves and to avert what could have been the total destruction of Sierra Leone as a civilised nation. At the same time, we also decided to leave the door open for any dialogue for long-term settlement.

Fellow citizens,

Let me reiterate that I have always believed in dialogue with the RUF rebels. I have always been willing to talk. You will remember the strenuous efforts I put into the Abidjan peace talks in 1996, soon after I was elected President. You will also remember that even after the invasion, and at the risk of incurring the wrath of the overwhelming majority of Sierra Leoneans, I met Foday Sankoh, the leader of the RUF, face to face. I even shook his hand. He hugged me. He cried, and apologised for reneging on the Abidjan Peace Accord.

We talked, and he and I agreed to a cease-fire. Well, as you know, other RUF members rejected it outright. We received conflicting signals from the RUF leadership and their allies. But we did not stop there. We then took yet another major step forward towards a peaceful settlement. Because the RUF leadership kept insisting that they had to talk to Foday Sankoh directly, and because the Foreign Ministers of Cote d'Ivoire and Togo had been mandated by ECOWAS to find out from the rebels exactly what they were fighting for, I allowed Sankoh to be taken to Conakry. There he met with the Foreign Ministers of those two countries and spoke to one of his leading supporters on the phone. Again, there were conflicting signals from the RUF. So, all my efforts, made on your behalf, have not yielded the desired results.

At this point, I would like to take this opportunity of reminding the rest of world that the RUF has engaged in armed conflict with the people and every government of Sierra Leone since 1991.

Having said this, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that there already exists an international consensus on the terms that the rebels should fulfill for genuine dialogue, leading to lasting peace in our country. These are:

1. The rebels must recognise the legitimacy of my Government.

2. All action armed attacks against the people of Sierra Leone must cease.

3. The rebels should present no pre-conditions for dialogue.

In light of this consensus, and notwithstanding actions by the rebels to derail all my initiatives for achieving peace, I wish to state that my government is prepared to continue its efforts for dialogue -- this time, using the Abidjan Peace Accord, which Foday Sankoh and I had signed, as a frame of reference.

Fellow citizens,

I am sure most of you are familiar with the contents of the Abidjan Peace Accord. But let me remind you that it makes provision for, among other things, the RUF to transform itself into a political party; the reintegration of its members into Sierra Leone society; the granting of amnesty to all RUF members; the disarmament and demobilization of all combatants; and the integration into the Sierra Leone Armed Forces of those who satisfy the recruiting criteria. I urge you all to examine these provisions dispassionately, and with a long-term view of the nation as a whole. I invite all of you, particularly civil society groups, to begin consultations immediately, and try to build national consensus on how government should conduct the peace process on the basis of the Abidjan Peace Accord.

Meanwhile, fellow citizens, I wish to inform you that consistent with my continuing efforts to achieve durable peace in this country, I have been holding a series of consultations on the issue, and that I can announce that I have agreed to allow Foday Sankoh to have face to face meeting with other members of the RUF, at a suitable venue to be determined. The idea is to give them an opportunity to consult and let us know how they intend to facilitate the peace process. In other words, we want them, in their face to face meeting, to come up with a clear position, bearing in mind the international consensus on peace, and the willingness of my government to use the Abidjan Peace Accord as a frame of reference for a peaceful settlement. I hope this time the RUF will be sincere.

The search for lasting peace in Sierra Leone requires the concerted effort not only of Sierra Leoneans, but of their neighbours in the sub-region and all peace-loving people throughout the world. I must therefore express my gratitude to our friends in the international community, particularly Nigeria, Guinea, Ghana, and all those countries, including the United Kingdom, which have supported us, and have demonstrated their commitment to the pursuit of sustainable peace in Sierra Leone. I urge all well-meaning Sierra Leoneans to join in this quest for a lasting solution to the conflict, so that we can fight the real battle facing our country: the battle against poverty and underdevelopment.

We must all realise that there is a price for peace which we have to be prepared to pay. In order to eradicate poverty in our country, it is our collective responsibility to create an atmosphere of security, peace and stability, in that order.

Finally, fellow citizens, let us all look to the future. Let us put aside our differences and work together for the future of our children and grandchildren. Let us not allow petty jealousies, rumours and squabbles to create a rift which evil forces can use to destroy us all. Let us all commit ourselves to seeking that which is for the common good. For if individual and selfish desires are allowed to cloud our sense of unity and judgement, then the outcome will be collective destruction. Let us always remember that the courage our convictions will enable us reach the desired goal, no matter how distant it may seem. The road may be long and rocky. The climb may be high and steep. But if we persevere, we shall overcome all the obstacles. And we shall get there sooner than we think.

I thank you for your attention.