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Madam Chair,
Your Excellencies
Representatives of Governments and
International Organisations,
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am only a guest, but I consider it my duty, a national duty, to be present at the opening of this important donors conference on behalf of my country, Sierra Leone. I am grateful to the conveners for inviting me, and for giving me the opportunity to set the scene for what I hope will yield concrete results in support of our peace-building effort.

Of course, Madam Chair, I am aware that the meeting was convened on your initiative. This is a reflection of your official, as well as your own personal interest in the welfare of the people of Sierra Leone. They hold you in high esteem. Your recent visit, the second to the country, and the subsequent announcement of an additional 5.5 million pounds sterling towards the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme, have once again underlined the importance which Her Majesty's Government attaches to implementation of the Lome Peace Agreement, and to the effort of our people to strengthen their capacity for economic and social recovery. The United Kingdom has proven to us in Sierra Leone, that it is not only a great defender of the principles of democracy, but also a role model in the timely translation of promises and pledges of development assistance into actual commitments.

Every participant in this meeting knows that our problems, especially those emerged over the past several years, have been enormous and complex. We all know that these problems have been complicated by, primarily, the rebel war and military intervention which have had devastating consequences on the nation in human and material terms. All of us know that many of the measures being devised to resolve those problems, such as the creation of various commissions, continue to raise more problems for the Government. Today, I would like to devote my remarks to four main aspects of our current national agenda.

Security and Safety

First, and foremost is the question of security and safety. In 1996, we were convinced that the Abidjan Peace Accord which I had signed with the leader of the RUF, would usher in a period of peace and economic prosperity after five years of armed conflict, a conflict which drained our human and natural resources. Guided by the principles and objectives of peace enshrined in that document, my government responded to the demand of our people, and I should add, some prodding from external friendly sources, to divert more of our resources from the purchase of weapons and other war material, to food and social services. In short, we envisioned implementation of a peace time budget. The state of the nation, as we and many of our development partners saw it, demanded that we focus more attention on ways of enhancing food production as well as programmes in the social sector, especially education and health.

While we succeeded in rehabilitating the social sector within a relatively short time, the events of May 25 1997, and January 6 1999, created a new reality, namely the need for a review of all aspects of our military and security systems. Madam Chair, allow me to paraphrase a remark which you yourself made last month in the context of security sector reform and development: "without basic security it is impossible for poor people to build a better life and to walk their way out of poverty."

It is therefore with the understanding of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other key development partners, that we have re-focused our attention on reforming our security system, including the Army, the Police and intelligence gathering capabilities. In this regard, we note that in his latest report to the Security Council on Sierra Leone, the Secretary-General of the United Nations spoke about the need for maximum effort to reorganise and strengthen our armed forces. It should be emphasised here that the restructuring of the national army and security system is being examined, and should be seen within the context of the Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Reintegration (DDR) programme.

Disarmament and Demobilisation

This brings me to the second aspect of my remarks, that is the DDR programme itself and the need for continued material support to ensure full implementation of the Peace Agreement.

You will recall that Chairman Foday Sankoh and Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma arrived in Sierra Leone three months after the signing of the Lome Agreement. This caused a delay in the start of the disarmament process. However, since the symbolic launching of the DDR programme last October, the DDR has continued to make slow but steady progress. Although we missed the first deadline of 15 December 1999, for the disarmament and demobilisation segments, we had an opportunity to address a number of crucial issues. One of these was logistics for UNAMSIL and its capacity to deploy in all relevant parts of the country. The decision of the Security Council to authorise the deployment of an 11,100 strong peacekeeping force was a clear manifestation of the determination of the United Nations, with the support of the rest of the international community, to invest in the peace and security of Sierra Leone. Sierra Leoneans welcomed the decision with a sense of profound appreciation.

The next step in this process of consolidating the peace, is for the full deployment of UNAMSIL, especially in the North and Eastern provinces. Before I left Sierra Leone for this meeting, I was assured that obstructions by elements of the RUF in certain parts of the country have been removed. This development should not only enhance the peace process, but also facilitate the distribution of humanitarian assistance to the needy people in those areas.

Madam Chair, in spite of all the assurances given by government, mistrust among the leadership of the various factions in the war also affected the disarmament process. We shall continue to address the problem through dialogue and constructive engagement. I have personally supported the nation-wide sensitisation programmes undertaken by the different factions to explain the details and benefits of the Lome Peace Agreements, and the DDR programme to their ex-combatants.

In terms of real progress, as of 20 March this year, about 20,000 armed ex-combatants have disarmed to ECOMOG and UNAMSIL. Although this represents only forty-four percent of the estimated number of 45,000 armed ex-combatants, there are strong indications that higher rates will be recorded in the coming weeks when more UNAMSIL contingents are deployed in the Eastern districts.

You will be interested to know that the National Committee which was established for the entire DDR programme is actively considering the possibility of setting a target date for the completion of disarmament. Meanwhile, consultations among the stakeholders, aimed at a consensus on the matter, will continue.

Regarding demobilisation, you are probably aware that the process has already begun in four of the five centres established around the country, in areas accessible to the government. Four new sites are under construction in Makeni and Magburaka in the North, and in Bo and Moyamba in the South. More demobilisation centres are planned for the North and East when UNAMSIL gains more access to those areas.

Reintegration of ex-combatants

Madam Chair, participants in this meeting will agree with me that the reintegration component of the DDR programme is critical to the success of the short-term security needs, and ultimately to peace and long-term stability of the country. Ex-combatants continue to be wary and apprehensive about their future in a post-conflict society where citizens have to live by hard work and relevant occupational skills rather than by the "barrel of the gun". With the assistance of the international community and the cooperation of local and international agencies, a reintegration plan has been formulated.

The plan takes into consideration the needs of all categories of ex-combatants. Considerable efforts are being invested in the developing projects with various agencies in the areas of public works, vocational skills training, small enterprise, agriculture and agro-based initiatives. We need support for these projects which are focused on the specific needs of the ex-combatants after demobilisation. The policy of my government in all these ventures is to ensure that non-combatant youths are also catered for, and that they benefit from these services in order to encourage reconciliation and effective reintegration of these young people who now constitute a significant mass in our country's population. We are also catering for child ex-soldiers who form about 12 per cent of the ex-combatant population. These young boys and girls have been exposed to war and violence for far too long, much longer than many of them have spent in school. We are committed to their return to an environment of peace where they can learn to secure their own future as productive citizens.

Let me add that although we have a National Committee and an Executive Secretariat for the DDR programme, and consistent with our decentralisation policy, we are in the process of broadening participation in the reintegration of ex-combatants by setting up district level committees to help in providing advice on all stages of the implementation process, especially the reintegration component of the DDR programme. We believe that this will contribute to a much quicker acceptance of ex-combatants back into their own communities.

Inadequate external financing commitments to DDR

At this point I would like to express my Government's concern about external financing commitments for the DDR programme. Commitments have remained inadequate to cover the original financing gap. At the same time, the most recent estimate of the entire DDR programme for the three-year period 2000-2002, rose to about $91 million, of which $51 million is earmarked to finance this year's DDR activities. So far, however, available domestic and foreign funding for the programme in the year 2000, is approximately $27.5 million.

Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen, I must be frank and say that failure to mobilise adequate external assistance for the DDR programme will leave my Government no alternative but to increase reliance on domestic bank financing with serious consequential slippages in the attainment of macroeconomic stability.

Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation

Madam Chair, the third aspect of our national agenda which I would like to bring to the attention of this donor's conference, is one which should be seen and addressed in conjunction with the process of consolidating the Peace Agreement. The National Commission for Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (NCRRR), together with its local and international partners are vigorously pressing for an extension of humanitarian assistance to previously inaccessible parts of the country for war-affected population in those areas.

Unfortunately, access by aid agencies to areas dominated by rebel factions has been intermittent. This is unacceptable. It runs counter to the Lome Peace Agreement which stipulates unhindered humanitarian access throughout the country. For its part, the National Commission for the Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation (NCRRR), is now inviting liaison officers of the former rebel movement, the RUFP, the Civil Defence Force (CDF) and the AFRC/ex-SLA into the Commission in order to assist in the extension of safe and sustainable access throughout the country.

The fact is that access is only one side of the coin. As and when security improves and rebel factions facilitate access to previously inaccessible areas, humanitarian agencies still encounter further obstacles - roads and bridges totally or partially destroyed. If timely and adequate assistance is to reach people in those areas, roads and bridges would have to be repaired or constructed as a matter of urgency. The strengthening of coordination with the NCRRR, and fast track financing of emergency road and bridge reconstruction by partner agencies will be critical in the provision of humanitarian assistance to war affected people.

There is also the problem of the internally displaced. The NCRRR, in collaboration with its partner agencies, has already developed a Resettlement Strategy for facilitating the resettlement of displaced people back in to their respective communities, and for community-based programmes to strengthen their capacity to start rebuilding their lives and pursuing their livelihood.

Here again the issue of security comes in. In order to facilitate resettlement, there must be adequate security. The NCRRR has therefore devised a mechanism in the form of Resettlement Assessment Committees. These comprise representatives of the Government, the United Nations and the beneficiaries. At the same time, resettlement planning committees are being established within each province and in the Western Area, to ensure a smooth transition from the phasing out of IDP camps to resettlement, reintegration and rehabilitation.

Crucial gaps for start-up packages and support services for implementing the resettlement programme are contained in the NCRRR paper which has been circulated.

The shelter crisis

Madam Chair, there is a shelter crisis within the country. The most serious incidence is in the Western Area where, in addition to the immediate need to resettle internally displaced, IDP's, there has been an increase in the number of ex-combatants and their dependents, all trying to settle in the greater Freetown area.

One of the key components of the whole resettlement and reintegration process is community-based rehabilitation and reconstruction projects under which all members of a community stand to benefit, whether they are resettling IDP's, returnees, existing residents or ex-combatants. The NCRRR has four such projects. It also ensures close coordination between this and similar donor/agency supported projects.

Budget deficit and Government's fiscal strategy

The fourth and final aspect of our national agenda I would like to address today, relates our budget situation and the level of assistance in support of our overall post-conflict recovery programme.

A central element in our fiscal strategy is the targeted improvement in the Government's primary balance, from a deficit equivalent to 7.4 per cent of GDP in 1999, to 3.2 per cent in the year 2000. Owing to increased outlays on social services, reconstruction and the reestablishment of key institutions mandated and necessary under the current peace process, the overall budget deficit is expected to rise from 17.1 per cent in 1999 to 21 per cent this year. We welcome the IMF supported emergency assistance programme and the World Bank funded Economic Recovery and Rehabilitation Credit. However, we should point out that even if we exclude the adjusted figures of the new DDR estimates, there is still a funding gap of US$21 million for this year's budget.

Madam Chair, the level of support for our essential, immediate post-conflict and peace-building development programmes has been, on the whole, miserably low, especially when one considers the magnitude and complexity of the problems we face. In these circumstances one is inclined to ask whether the proverbial "wait and see" attitude in dealing with conflicts in Africa is being applied in our case, or whether there is a genuine desire to embrace the option of investing in building sustainable peace in our small corner of an interdependent world.

Our people have made an unprecedented sacrifice for peace. As I said here in London last July after the signing of the Lome Peace Agreement, the people of Sierra Leone are anxiously waiting to see and reap the real benefits of making peace with those who had inflicted death, suffering and pain on the nation in pursuit of their quest for political power.

It is my hope that this conference, while renewing the international community's determination to support our post-conflict recovery and reconstruction programme, will come up with concrete courses of action to secure the resources required to help us tackle the major aspects of our national agenda which I have just outlined for the consolidation of peace in Sierra Leone.

The Sierra Leone peace operation is evolving as a very good example of how cooperation between a sub-regional organisation, ECOWAS, and the United Nations can make a significant difference in the evolution of a peace operation. It is to be recalled here again that international concern for Sierra Leone was first raised by the OAU, which then charged ECOWAS to take action. The achievement of ECOWAS through its peace-keeping arm, ECOMOG, is now a matter of record.

I would like at this juncture to express the gratitude of my Government and the people of Sierra Leone, to ECOWAS countries, in particular Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea and Mali, for the immense sacrifice they made.

In taking over the operations of the Lome Peace Agreement, the United Nations has progressively built on the foundation laid by ECOMOG. The decision of the Security Council recently to expand UNAMSIL from its original strength of 6,000 to 11,100, is in recognition of the necessity to fill any security vacuum resulting from the imminent withdrawal of ECOMOG. I should therefore also like to extend my gratitude to members of the Security Council and the United Nations in general for their concern and support to ensure that the peace process is pursued to a successful end. The people of Sierra Leone do not expect less from an organisation of which their country has been a member since its independence, and which has evolved in its attitude towards conflict in member States, particularly in Africa.

This is the least you can do for the people of Sierra Leone as they struggle to deal with the agony of forgiveness and national reconciliation.

I wish you well in your deliberations.