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Sierra Leone

What happened in Sierra Leone?

Sierra Leone's conflict began in 1991 when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) first attacked from Liberia. In 1997, disaffected soldiers of the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) staged a coup and called on Major Johnny Paul Koroma, already prison on treason charges, lead them. Koroma formed the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and invited the RUF to join him. But the military junta failed to attract international support and was shunned by the people of Sierra Leone. The Nigerian-led ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), aided by the Sierra Leone Civil Defence Force (CDF) led by Sam Hinga Norman, removed the junta from Freetown in February 1998 and President Kabbah, whose government had sought refuge in neighbouring Guinea, returned to Freetown in March that year.

In January 1999 rebel groups attacked again, occupying most of Freetown. ECOMOG forces eventually expelled them, but during the rebel action over 5,000 people were killed and most of the eastern suburbs of Freetown were destroyed. Both the rebels and ECOMOG forces reportedly committed widespread human rights abuses. A ceasefire was agreed in May 1999.

The ceasefire led to the Lomé Peace Agreement, signed in July 1999, between the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and the RUF. But in May 2000, after a period of relative stability, Sierra Leone was again on the brink of collapse as the rebels turned their backs on the Lomé Peace Agreement and attacked UN peacekeepers. Over half the country was under the control of rebels. Almost half of the population had been displaced. British forces were deployed to Freetown to evacuate UK citizens and secure the airport to allow the arrival of UN reinforcements.

In November 2000, GoSL and the RUF signed the Abuja Agreement, a cease-fire agreement brokered by ECOWAS in Nigeria. In early 2001 a UN peacekeeping force, UNAMSIL (United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone) deployed throughout the country. GoSL restored its authority over the whole country and gradually extended basic government services into areas that have not been under government control for the best part of a decade.

In January 2001 President Kabbah declared that disarmament was complete and the war over. By March the State of Emergency was lifted. Work to consolidate the new and fragile peace began on a wide range of fronts. Peaceful and credible elections, held in May 2002, saw Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) leader President Kabbah re-elected. This marked a major step forward in the restoration of stability in Sierra Leone.

What is the current situation?

In January 2003 Sierra Leone celebrated its first year of peace in over a decade. The situation remains peaceful but fragile. Although the hard-won peace was in itself a great relief to the population, and immediate humanitarian relief alleviated the most serious suffering, it will take time for the majority of Sierra Leoneans to feel significant improvements in their circumstances. UNAMSIL, the UN peacekeeping mission, began its gradual withdrawal in November 2002, but around 12,000 UN troops are still there.

The ten-year civil war (1991-2002) devastated Sierra Leone's infrastrucures and displaced its population. Sierra Leone is ranked bottom of the UN's 2003 Human Development Index Report. Strongly supported by the UK, a peace-building and reconstruction programme of bilateral and multilateral support has consolidated the peace and begun to address all aspects of the post-conflict environment.

PDF History of conflict in Sierra Leone  (PDF, 56K)
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