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Monday, May 31, 1999 Published at 02:19 GMT 03:19 UK


World: Africa

Sierra Leone talks enter critical phase

The Sierra Leone military has failed to defeat the rebels

By Mark Doyle in Freetown

Sierra Leone
One of Africa's most brutal conflicts may, just may, be in the process of being resolved. Peace talks aimed at ending the war in Sierra Leone are entering a second, critical week on Monday.

The prospect for ending a conflict, which has made an estimated one million people homeless and killed tens of thousands, is better than for many years.


Mark Doyle: There have been false dawns before
The democratically elected government, which has political backing from Britain and the United Nations, is negotiating with rebels because they have been unable to defeat them militarily.

A ceasefire declared to coincide with the peace talks is shaky but holding.

Sticking points

The two sides are now expected to get down to the real issues at hand:

  • possible power sharing with the rebels

  • an amnesty for rebellious soldiers who joined the insurgency

  • exactly how and when the rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, may be released from a death sentence hanging over him on treason charges.

Most of the international community, led politically in the former British colony by Tony Blair's government, supports the elected Sierra Leonean President, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. A British army team is currently here to help train his troops.


[ image: Mr Sankoh still has a death sentence hanging over him]
Mr Sankoh still has a death sentence hanging over him
But the key military backer of President Kabbah is Nigeria, which has an estimated 10,000 soldiers here who have been fighting the rebels.

The democratically-elected president of Nigeria, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was inaugurated this weekend, said in his first speech that he will encourage the Sierra Leone peace talks in the hope that this would mean some of his troops coming home.

A number of the elements are now in place for a possible deal to end the Sierra Leonean war, but this country has had false dawns before and whether the rebels are really committed to peace and democracy is far from clear.



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Internet Links


Crisis Web: Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Web

UN Observer Mission in Sierra Leone


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