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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 11:03 GMT
UN 'progress' in Sierra Leone peace
RUF fighters
Rebels have previously ignored the peace accord
The head of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone has met the leader of the main rebel movement, to urge the rebels to withdraw from conflicts in the neighbouring countries of Guinea and Liberia.

Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande described the meeting as "a great leap forward towards the peace process".

Daniel Opande
General Opande: Discussed the deployment of peacekeepers
General Opande flew to the rebel-held town of Magburaka where he met Issa Sesay, leader of the Revolutionary United Front, and other rebel officials.

Last month the UN Security Council condemned recent incursions by the RUF into Guinea, whose government says the rebels are aided by the Liberian authorities.

RUF forces have also been accused of fighting alongside government troops in Liberia itself.

"The UN is trying to get the RUF to see reason, so that their fighters are not used as mercenaries by these two neighbouring countries," UN spokeswoman Hirut Befecadu said.

Peacekeepers

General Opande also discussed prospects for deploying peacekeepers in rebel-held areas of Sierra Leone, under the terms of the current ceasefire.

Earlier attempts by the UN to persuade the RUF to comply with the peace accord were unsuccessful.

Only a small fraction of RUF arms were handed in, and hundreds of UN peacekeepers were captured by the rebels.

Last year, RUF fighters advanced on the capital, Freetown, and retreated only after the deployment of British troops alongside the UN peacekeepers and Sierra Leone army.

The UN spokeswoman said the rebels had agreed to open three major roads linking government and rebel-controlled areas.

The UN and RUF are to form a contact group to work towards the implementation of the peace deal, she added.

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See also:

27 Dec 00 | Africa
Sierra Leone: A tumultuous year
20 Dec 00 | Africa
UN finds 'lost' refugees
15 Sep 00 | Africa
Guinea: Crisis long in the making
03 Jan 01 | Africa
UN to ship out Leone refugees
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