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Group Urges UN Peacekeepers to Strengthen Operations in Sierra Leone - 2001-10-25

An international conflict prevention group is recommending that UNAMSIL, the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone, take a tougher stance with the country's Revolutionary United Front rebels. Although the International Crisis Group says there are many grounds for optimism in Sierra Leone, it warns that the RUF's commitment to peace is fragile and requires sustained international pressure.

The International Crisis Group, or ICG, says in a report, that Sierra Leone's history of stalled or collapsed peace deals could repeat itself, if the international community does not act decisively in the months leading up to next May's general elections. The Brussels-based group is urging the U.N. mission in Sierra Leone to be more assertive in its peace negotiations with the RUF.

Comfort Ero, ICG project director in Freetown, says, now that most of the rebels' demands have been met, the U.N. must maintain pressure on the rebels.

"The RUF has basically received all their requests. UNAMSIL basically has no more sticks left in its arena," he says. "And we say to the U.N., what else have you got left up your sleeve to beat the RUF with, if they decide not to comply with the peace process?"

The report says the U.N. should pursue a strategy of what it calls "Security First," which would require full disarmament of the rebels and restoration of government authority throughout the country, before the May elections. The report says UNAMSIL must be prepared to use force, if necessary, in carrying out its mandate.

However, the ICG says the international community must also be aware of other groups that could pose a threat to the peace process. The report mentions the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party and the Civil Defense Forces, or CDF.

"We always go for the obvious candidate, the RUF," he says. "But we are saying, there are actually other spoilers to the peace. And the CDF and their links, alliances with the government, and the ruling party - the Sierra Leone People's Party," she says. "That, I think, is where the critical issues lie. There, I think, there needs to be more scrutiny. There, I think, there needs to be more concentration on their potential to derail the peace process, particularly if the elections don't go their way," he says.

Sierra Leone is struggling to emerge from a decade of civil war, which mainly pitted RUF rebels against the government-loyal Civil Defense Force. Since a peace deal was agreed in May, nearly half of the combatants have disarmed, aided by the U.N.'s deployment of the world's largest peacekeeping force.