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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK
Sierra Leone - giving up guns?
Bangladeshi UN officers watch RUF Lieutenant Raymond Quiesse hands in his AK-47
A disarmed RUF officer gets the UN's seal of approval
By Chris Simpson in Lunsar, Sierra Leone

The town of Lunsar - about 80 kilometres north-east of Freetown - changed hands on several occasions during the latter stages of Sierra Leone's 10-year-old civil war and was a former stronghold of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

But now it is soldiers from the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (Unamsil) who man the checkpoints in and around town.


This was a people's uprising - Revolutionary United Front - that is what we were and that is what we are, fighters against corruption

RUF commander
The RUF has sent over 200 of its combatants to a special camp, run by the government's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programme.

So too has the pro-government Civil Defence Force (CDF).

The rival soldiers are expected to stay together in the camp for up to four weeks, receiving food, shelter and some basic counselling before returning to civilian life.

At the Murialdo school, Bangladeshi Unamsil officers look on approvingly as RUF Lieutenant Raymond Quiesse hands in his AK-47.

Younger combatants go through their routines
Training with sticks for the pro-government Civil Defence Force
The surrendering of weapons is seen as a crucial component in a peace process which the UN believes is now gathering momentum, despite reports of continuing fighting in the east of Sierra Leone and a host of unresolved issues.

Sceptics point out there were similar levels of optimism in May 2000, just before the peace process collapsed as the RUF took hundreds of Unamsil peacekeepers hostage.

'Prophets' of the RUF

RUF officers at the camp in Lunsar respond warily to questions about their movement's alleged record of atrocities against civilians.

Their commander, who requests anonymity, talks angrily of exaggerated reports and misrepresentation.

"This was a people's uprising", he emphasises. "Revolutionary United Front, that is what we were and that is what we are, fighters against corruption.


In time of war you prepare for peace. In time of peace you prepare for war. That's the correct perspective

CDF commander Brima Davowah Samah
"Go to the villages and you will find out how much people like us."

The same commander said he had been a teacher before he joined the RUF and now acted as a priest to his men. "Think of the prophets in the Bible. They too had to fight".

The RUF says the speed of its own disarmament and demobilisation is dependent on a reciprocal response from the CDF.

Lethal sticks

The civil defence militias are believed to have over 20,000 men under arms, many of them kamajors - fighters from traditional hunting communities who believe they have special powers which make them resistant to the bullets of their enemies.

The RUF has sent over 200 of its combatants to a special camp, run by the government's Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration programme
RUF officers will be "regenerated" before returning to civilian life
The CDF's acknowledged Commander-in-Chief, Hinga Norman, is currently Sierra Leone's Deputy Defence Minister and is seen as a pivotal figure in the peace process.

At the village of Bambayo, in the far south-east of Sierra Leone, mainly younger CDF combatants go through training routines. They use huge wooden sticks in place of guns, simulating combat operations against an imaginary enemy.

Battalion commander Brima Davowah Samah says his troops have never been able to buy weapons, but have taken what they can from the RUF.

"You can kill easily with these sticks", Samah points out. "You chase after a man, you knock his spine. I've done it many times".

Samah says he will follow government directives on the peace process and act accordingly, but he is sceptical. "The DDR is not a reliable programme at this point in time. Our fighters have never received any benefits from it".

The CDF commander says he has no reason to trust the RUF. "We have been in so many meetings with them before and they've caused the whole thing to break down.

"In time of war you prepare for peace. In time of peace you prepare for war. That's the correct perspective".

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