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Sierra Leone Rebels Threaten to Disrupt Peace Process - 2001-08-29


In Sierra Leone, rebels with the Revolutionary United Front, RUF, are threatening to disrupt the country's fragile peace process. The rebels are demanding that a transition government be formed and that they be allowed to take part in it.

The rebels' demands come as Sierra Leone's government pushes for yet another delay in presidential elections that would be due next month. The government says disarmament must be completed before elections can be carried out. If the parliament approves, President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah's term would be extended for another six months while the government regains control of areas still held by the RUF.

The rebels and political opposition groups oppose any extension for the Kabbah government. RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi tells VOA his group is calling for the formation of an interim administration, in which former rebels would participate. "If the government refuses to do that, we will definitely have a problem," he said. "The government will have a problem with the people of this country. We are not going to cooperate further. We are going to make sure that everything stands still until political issues are addressed. We are not going to cooperate with the government at all in any [of its] undertakings in the peace process. If they continue to resist, to listen to the demands of the people, we will definitely not allow for the deployment of government officials in our territory. There will be no formal cooperation with them at all."

Sierra Leone's Information Minister Cecil Blake told VOA Wednesday the government had no comment on Mr. Massaquoi's remarks.

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, UNAMSIL, estimates the disarmament process, if it continues as planned, will be through in November.

Disarmament was completed this month in the highly-contested, diamond-rich Kono district. UNAMSIL officials called it a major milestone, saying they were confident that the process of bringing peace to Sierra Leone had reached the point no return. Thus far, UNAMSIL says more than 16,000 combatants - both rebels and pro-government militias - have disarmed.

While threatening to cease all cooperation with peace efforts, Mr. Massaquoi says the RUF does not intend to take up arms again. He says the group will push its agenda by political means.

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