19 May 2007 04:17


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  • Title: [SW News] UNITED NATIONS (AP) U.N. Faces Trouble in Sierra Leone
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  • Date :[Saturday, May 06, 2000 2:00 AM ED]

U.N. Faces Trouble in Sierra Leone

Story Filed: Saturday, May 06, 2000 2:00 AM EDT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- For the United Nations, there is more at stake in its handling of the current crisis in Sierra Leone than the freedom of peacekeepers being detained there by rebels.

The world body may have a difficult time getting countries to volunteer troops for future missions, including one planned for the Congo, and is at risk of being branded incapable of its very mandate -- resolving conflict and protecting the weak.

``This is a crisis as much for Africa as for the U.N. and African leaders need to resolve it because there is little likelihood of any meaningful action in the Congo unless the Sierra Leone operation is seen to be functioning satisfactorily,'' said David Malone, president of the International Peace Academy, an independent institution specializing in peace and security issues.

Revolutionary United Front rebels have captured an estimated 300 U.N. personnel sent to Sierra Leone to supervise the fragile peace accord that ended eight years of civil war. So far this week, four peacekeepers from the U.N. mission are missing and presumed dead and 12 more have been wounded.

In New York, the Security Council issued a statement Thursday demanding the release of its people and accusing rebel leader Foday Sankoh of violating the peace agreement.

But Malone said the statement was weakly worded and the United Nations needed to take a tougher line with Sankoh if it expects to shore up support for future peacekeeping missions elsewhere.

``The U.N. needs to make clear to him more directly that the arm of justice is longer than it was 10 years ago, that criminal tribunals have been set up, that an international criminal court has been agreed upon and that all these things have been done precisely to deal with the kind of people that he appears to be,'' Malone said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on Western powers, including the United States and Britain -- Sierra Leone's former colonial master -- to provide rapid-response teams to the war-torn region, a move policy analysts believe unlikely.

``The U.S. policy has been to support Africans in resolving conflicts on their own continent,'' said Tim Bork, director of the African Policy Initiative for the Carnegie Endowment. ``I don't think there would be support for U.S. troops swooping in there.''

The West shied away from African intervention after 18 Americans were killed in a botched U.S. raid in Somalia in 1993.

Bork called the crisis in Sierra Leone ``a temporary setback'' but did not think it would diminish chances for a peacekeeping mission in oil- and diamond-rich Congo.

``Congo is a very important country and could not only cost us in economic terms but in a lot of other ways as well,'' Bork said. The opportunities for success in Congo provide the Clinton administration -- which has had a tough run in foreign policy -- with the chance to prove itself in Africa, he said.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is in Congo discussing details of a deployment with the parties involved there, but his efforts were hampered by renewed fighting between Ugandan and Rwandan troops that claimed the lives of at least 10 civilians on Friday.

John Stremlau, a former State Department official who teaches international relations at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, believes the United Nations often goes into areas with its hands already tied.

In the case of Sierra Leone, he said, the organization was expected to police a shaky peace accord that installed Sankoh in the Cabinet and freed him from prosecution for the brutal actions of his forces during the war.

The rebels have been accused of killing thousands of civilians and maiming many more -- often chopping off limbs with machetes -- in their war to oust the government.

``In the end, the U.N. is only what its members want it to be. It's being asked to do things that are pretty impossible because governments are always trying to offload responsibilities on it,'' Stremlau said.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press Information Services, all rights reserved.

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