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"From the Battlefield to the Playing Field"

Message from the President
H.E. Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
to the Ground/Battalion Commanders
Peace Conference
Organised by the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace
Delivered by the Vice President
Dr. Albert J. Demby

Bo Town Hall, Bo, 18 April 2000


Mr. Chairman,
Your Excellencies
Members of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP)
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to thank Chairman Johnny Paul Koroma and members of the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP), for organising this Ground/Battalion Commanders Peace Conference, which is a follow-up to last month's meeting of group leaders. The last time I was in Bo, two months ago, I brought an important message for the field commanders of the conflict groups, but only a few of them were around in person. I welcome this opportunity to deliver the message once again. The message is still timely. It comes from the vast majority of the people of Sierra Leone who deserve to live in peace and security. I am delivering it on their behalf.

Let no one underestimate the significance of the events and activities which will take place here in the next few days. This is not just another conference, another sensitisation workshop or seminar. It is, in my view, a small family reunion, one which should pave the way for more reunions in this war ravaged family which we call Sierra Leone. When we speak of national reconciliation, or when we speak of consolidating peace, this is where it must begin.

In the first place, this conference brings together a corps of individuals who, in one way or the other, were responsible for managing, and directing field operations in the nine-year armed conflict. I say this not to apportion blame, or to arouse any feeling of bitterness, but rather to underscore our conviction that those who, in their capacities as ground or battalion commanders had supervisory functions in waging war, also have the ability to supervise the process of making peace. In other words, that those who taught others the art of warfare, also have the capacity, indeed the responsibility, to muster the will to teach their ex-combatants the lessons of peace.

You were and are still leaders in your own right. You had the mandate and the power to instruct your subordinate fighters what to do in pursuit of your respective objectives. You expected them to obey, and they did obey your instructions. Many of you and other comrades-in-arms were better known by baneful aliases -- captain "this" captain "that" -- than by your real first and surnames, aliases intended to symbolise your prowess and individual specialisation in what you considered your areas of operation. You were, in the eyes of your subordinates, role models and mentors. Without you the field and battalion commanders, I am sure the nature and length of the conflict would have been different from what we experienced those nine long years. Now is the time for each of you to make a difference. Now is the time for you to help us transform the minds and actions of those under your command from a vocation of armed conflict into a new culture of tolerance and peaceful coexistence.

A few weeks ago, here in Bo, I tried to explain the benefits of disarmament, and demobilisation. I appealed to all ex-combatants wherever they were, to disarm for the good of us all. The message, our message, was in fact directed you. I challenged you the field and battalion commanders to urge your men and women in arms to join in the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme now under way. Today, I would like to take this opportunity to urge you to use the same propensity, the same determination, the same authority and power you had on the battlefield, to lead your comrades-in-arms to join the ranks of the thousands of other ex-combatants who have surrendered their arms and are now part of the DDR programme.

The significance of this conference is characterised not only by the rank and composition of its participants, but also by the content and scope of the activities in its programme of work.

In the next few days you will be working together, indoors and outdoors. You will be receiving and sharing information, devising inter-personal communication strategies, and using your creative talents in joint cultural activities and performances. You will entertain and be entertained. You will also be competing among yourselves, not as adversaries and combatants, but as team players bound by the principle of true sportsmanship, which means that there are no winners or losers. It is interesting to note that in the playing field during the next few days, the aliases of the battle or killing field will be replaced by symbolic names espousing the virtues of repentance, forgiveness, and love. These are not mere slogans. They are essential elements for the consolidation of peace.

I also understand that participants will have an opportunity to pray together. I need not emphasise the relevance of this aspect of the conference's agenda. We believe that this spiritual atmosphere will prevail throughout the proceedings of this gathering.

Of course, not all the ground and battalion commanders of the conflict groups are here. I understand that those of you who are with us today have been drawn not only from all factions, but also from various parts of the country. So you are representatives, indeed trailblazers, in an initiative which should accelerate the process of bringing durable peace and security to our country.

Since the signing of the Lome Peace Agreement last July, the process of consolidating the peace has often been described as "tenuous", "shaky" and "uneasy". But let's be frank, and try to see it from more than one perspective. When we consider the physical and emotional impact of the war on our brothers and sisters, our children and other loved ones, many of whom are still languishing under miserable conditions as refugees and internally displaced; and when we consider the amount of economic and social reconstruction which we have to undertake, it is not unreasonable for people to expect a much faster disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process. At the same time, when we consider the level of insecurity we face as a result of the continued possession of large quantities of arms and ammunition by ex-combatants; and when we consider the negative effects which mistrust, misinformation and sheer mischief have had on the DDR process, one can understand why the Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (CCP), decided to organise this conference of ground/battalion commanders as a matter of extreme urgency.

I would like to commend the Commission, for its initiative to bring a cadre of conflict group leaders face to face, in fulfillment of its mandate, namely, to supervise and monitor implementation of and compliance with the provisions of the Lome Peace Agreement and to promote national reconciliation and the consolidation of peace.

Mr. Chairman, the real success of this conference will depend on how soon the ground/battalion commanders, participants in this conference, can effectively share their experiences with their ex-combatants, teach them the mutual benefits to be derived from peace, and thus persuade them to join the DDR programme.

I welcome all participants and wish you every success in this important gathering as part of our effort to reestablish both peace and security in our beloved country.

I thank you for your attention.