The Sierra Leone Web


5 APRIL 2001


This Passing-Out Parade marks the culmination of the training of the 'B' Battalion and the Independent Companies of the Sierra Leone Army. During the past several weeks of their training these officers have been imbibed with the highest qualities of a professional army, such as discipline, skills development, physical endurance, leadership and team spirit.

What they have achieved is a further realization of Government's determination to have in place a well-trained and well-equipped professional army, capable of defending our nation and the security of its citizens at any time.

In the recent past, I dare say, the military has not been the solid bedrock of national security and defence which it is supposed to be. The army will be the first to acknowledge that it had not always lived up to the expectations of this nation and its citizens. Some soldiers, by their actions and activities, brought an otherwise noble profession into disrepute. As a nation we have had to endure the painful experience of being denied a loyal and disciplined army when confronted by an insurgency from both within and without. That experience has not only been costly and painful in terms of human lives, but has also proved detrimental to our socio-economic development.

The senseless rebel war that has gripped this nation for the past decade has caused immense suffering to our people. It has also prevented and frustrated most forms of normal life. Hence my Government is determined that never again shall this nation be left defenceless; never again shall our people lose confidence in the armed forces, and in the ability of those forces to defend and protect them when necessary.

As officers, and with your new training, you have been given the opportunity to restore the pride and reputation of your profession. In this regard, you should from now on pledge to put that unfortunate period behind us, and dedicate yourselves to the defence of this nation and to the security of its citizens at all times. This requires, first and foremost, loyalty to the Constitution of our country, and to the constitutional authority of the day. It also requires discipline and dedication to your own profession, so that this country will never again find itself unprotected when confronted with any form of aggression.

As soldiers, you have by choice taken upon yourselves the arduous and challenging task to protect, defend and render assistance to your fellow citizens. It is an awesome responsibility, but one for which you have been adequately equipped through the excellent training you have undergone. I urge you to go out and show to your fellow compatriots and, indeed, to the society at large, that you are worthy of their trust and respect, that you are a force for good.

Less two months ago, in a public address, I said that although the guns of war had been silent for a while, and notwithstanding a marked improvement in the general state of affairs in the country, the threat to peace and security was still around us. Today, this Passing-Out Parade marks another giant step towards our goal of not only reducing, but ultimately removing that threat.

Unfortunately, there are those who still believe that the meaning of peace, or that the only road to peace in Sierra Leone is the allocation of political appointments in government. As far as we concerned, and the entire international community recognizes this, there are many roads to peace. The principal ones are: security and safety through the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme, and the establishment of State authority throughout the country. These two are far more important, far more vital to achieving real peace than the so-called legitimate political concern of any party or individual.

Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that the strengthening of our military capability is crucial to the achievement of durable peace. This is not just my view or that of the Government. Last November, in signing the Abuja Agreement, the RUF accepted the Government's commitment to accelerate the process of restructuring and training of the Sierra Leone Army. The RUF also agreed with us that in order to restore the authority of the Government throughout the entire country, both parties should ensure free movement of persons and goods, unimpeded movement of humanitarian agencies, and of refugees and displaced persons.

And that was not all. It is also necessary to recall that the RUF also agreed with us that Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) should resume immediately. That was five months ago, much too long for the overwhelming majority of our people who have made considerable sacrifice for the sake of peace.

Of course, another provision of the Abuja Agreement is that in discharge of its responsibilities, UNAMSIL should be absolutely free to deploy its troops and other personnel throughout the country, including the diamond producing areas.

The ultimate objective of the Abuja Agreement was not merely to silence the guns of war, to ensure a cease-fire and bring an end to hostilities, it was also intended to pave the way for establishing sustainable peace, stability and security throughout Sierra Leone. Therefore, all the provisions of that Agreement must be implemented before we can meaningfully talk about peace.

Those who want to "kick-start" the peace process should start off by implementing scrupulously, all the provisions of Abuja.

It is not enough to say "no more war, we don't want to fight any longer." It is certainly not enough to tell the media that "we are tired of war." Frankly, we heard these same remarks towards the end of 1999, after Lome. We heard them again before the dark days of May 2000.

I would like the RUF to know that this time, those words must be translated into concrete action. Let the action begin with implementation of the Abuja Agreement. Then, and only then will the people of Sierra Leone honestly believe the RUF pronouncements about war and peace. In this regard, we welcome last Friday's decision of the Security Council to demand that the RUF take immediate steps to fulfill its commitments under that Agreement.

Let me close by appealing to you the recruits and other ranks of the Sierra Leone Army, to cooperate with your colleagues, members of UNAMSIL. I say colleagues because you are all, in a sense, peacekeepers. You are all instruments for the maintenance of international peace and security.

My appeal for cooperation also applies to the various contingents of UNAMSIL itself. I look forward to the opportunity of meeting as many of these contingents, from time to time, as they perform their duties.

In our view, the revised concept of operations of UNAMSIL, including support of our DDR programme, and the responsibilities of the Sierra Leone Army are complimentary. As trained professional and loyal soldiers, albeit under different helmets, your job is the same as that of the contingents of UNAMSIL. That is, to protect and defend the people of Sierra Leone, and to help create the conditions for peace, security and stability. I dare say that someday many of you who are passing out today, may be called upon to help bring peace to other conflict regions of the world, under the same blue helmet or beret, and under the same blue flag.

I wish to place on record the nation's gratitude to the British Government for the continued assistance, as well as its commitment to providing support for the capacity building and preparedness of the Sierra Leone Army, to perform its constitutional responsibilities.

Once again, I congratulate you the soldiers for the professionalism you have displayed during your training, and for the fine turn out at this parade. You have shown what it takes to become one of the finest armies in the region if you put your mind to it.

I wish you success in the discharge of your duties.