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Sierra Leone Rebels to Resume Disarmament Process - 2001-09-19

In Sierra Leone, rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) say they will resume the disarmament process that has been limping along since May. Earlier this month, the rebels boycotted a meeting to protest the government's decision to postpone elections for the second time this year.

The Sierra Leone government earlier this month decided to delay elections and extend its mandate until next year. Officials based their decision on Sierra Leone's constitution, which says a six-month extension is possible if a state of war exists.

The move drew protests from RUF rebels, who threatened to stop cooperating with U.N. sponsored peace efforts. They demanded the immediate establishment of a transition government composed of various political parties, including the RUF. Now, it appears the RUF has been rethinking its demand.

After boycotting a meeting earlier this month, RUF representatives returned to negotiations. They met with United Nations and government officials in the town of Makeni on Tuesday.

RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi told VOA that his group is not letting up on its call for a transition government, but has agreed to pursue that demand by legal means. "We asked for a transitional government," he said. "They could not just be continuing to extend their own mandate and continue to rule the people under a state of emergency. So we agreed that we should have a consultative conference where the people of Sierra Leone will speak for themselves [and] decide whether they will continue to be ruled under state of emergency or under the same government. We cannot continue to say we want transition government or interim government when it is not in the Constitution."

Mr. Massaquoi said that, in addition to holding the consultative conference, the government agreed to provide the RUF with office space in the capital, Freetown, so that the group can carry out its political activities.

The rebels are praising the U.N. Security Council's decision Tuesday to extend the U.N. peacekeepers' mandate in Sierra Leone for another six months. Mr. Massaquoi said the rebels want peace, and he said the only way the peace process can continue to move forward is by having U.N. peacekeepers present.

Rebels and pro-government militias have been laying down their weapons by the thousands in a disarmament effort that U.N. officials say should be completed by November.